Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Innovation in the Auto Industry

It's interesting to see the approach Toyota is taking with their hybrids. Rather than a full-scale dive into a new paradigm - in this case solar, they are innovating incrementally. Compare that to GM's efforts on an all electric car - the Volt. It's not clear that batteries and other required technologies are developed enough to allow GM to produce a practical, inexpensive electric car. Consider, for example, this NY Times story about a congressman driving a hydrogen fuel cell car from Corning NY to Washington, DC. Doesn't give me much faith that we're going to have cars running on hydrogen anytime soon.

Toyota could have tried to move to an all solar-powered car, but the technology is just not ready. I'm sure they're working on it and have some prototype, but rather than try to shove it into consumer vehicles today, they are doing what they can with solar today. So in 2010, solar panels will provide some energy for air circulation and the car will run for one mile on battery only. Maybe in 2011, the car will run on battery alone for 10 miles and the solar panels will circulate air and defrost the windows. And in 2012 a little bit more. This sort of incremental approach is a much more reliable, real-world way to move technology forward. The lesson here is whatever you're working on doesn't have to be a flash of innovative genius, but instead move the work forward with incremental improvements to achieve long-term innovation.

Next-gen Prius now official, uses solar panels to keep car cool - Engadget

2010 Toyota Prius has made its official debut at this week's Detroit Auto Show. The company estimates it'll have a 50 MPG rating -- up from 46 MPG in the previous model -- and there's a bigger, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine for improved highway mileage. In addition to Power and Eco driving modes, EV Drive will let you run on battery alone for about a mile, which if nothing else should provide a little extra push for getting to the gas station when you've held off for too long. One of the coolest (literally) new features is the optional solar panels in the moonroof that will generate power for circulating air and keeping the interior temperature from going too high. If that's not enough, there's a remote-controlled A/C system that can run on battery alone and lets you set the temperature before you get in.

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