Two Automakers Mull Changes Fueled by Demands for Greener Cars

Two Automakers Mull Changes Fueled by Demands for Greener Cars

Amid increasing demands for greener vehicles and soaring fuel costs, Toyota Motor Corp. reportedly plans to offer solar-powered air conditioning on some high-end Prius models next year and General Motors may bring its Chevrolet mini car called the Beat to the U.S.

Toyota plans to install solar panels made by Kyocera Corp. on the roof of its next-generation Prius gas-electric hybrids to help power air conditioning, the Nikkei business daily reported Monday in an article that was also carried by news services.

The articles did not cite their sources by name, although the development was attributed in some reports to someone who had been briefed on the matter and to a Toyota official speaking on condition of anonymity. Toyota declined comment on the reports, saying the company does not discuss product plans.

Adding solar panels to mass-produced vehicle would be a first, the articles said.

In Detroit, GM said it bringing the Chevrolet Beat to the U.S. is among the options the company is studying to address the dramatic shift in consumer buying habits from trucks to cars as gas prices climb.

Other options being considered include further cuts to white-collar jobs and getting rid of some brands, according to news reports on Monday.

The Chevrolet Beat, at 138 inches long, gets as much as 40 miles to the gallon and would be the second-smallest car in the U.S. after Daimler AG's 106-inch Smart car. Also compared to the size of a Honda Fit or a Toyota Yaris mini car, the Beat would be built in South Korea.

GM and other U.S. automakers are struggling to cope with the swift and sweeping market shifts. "Consumer preferences in the U.S. are changing drastically," said John A. Casesa, managing partner for the Casesa Shapiro Group, a merchant bank specializing in the automotive industry.

Of the reported plans to install solar panels atop next-generation Prius cars, Casesa said such a development would not be revolutionary as many manufacturers are exploring the use of solar for low-powered needs. "The real breakthrough was the development of a hybrid vehicle that works flawlessly," Casesa said of the Prius, adding that he views the reported solar plan for the hybrid as "an enhancement" and a natural progression in the technology.