Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Ford develops solar powered car for everyday use

Ford's solar concept car

Ford has developed a concept model that runs primarily on solar power, which could bring the world one step closer to having a vehicle for everyday driving that is not dependent on traditional energy sources.

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is a collaboration between Ford, SunPower Corp. and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The concept car is expected to be unveiled next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Like all concept models, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept may never be built or sold to the public. However, many of the features and technologies we see in current vehicles were once shown for the first time in concept models years ago.

Harnessing the sun's power

Ford says the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept would be powered by energy it collects using a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass.

C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car
Image from Ford.

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The concentrator would take energy from sun light and direct intense rays to panels on the vehicle's roof.

In theory, the C-MAX Solar Energi could fully recharge itself without the vehicle having to be plugged in to an electrical outlet. Ford believes sunshine could power up to 75 percent of all trips made in a solar hybrid vehicle, though the automaker does not give a distance for those trips.

Are sustainable cars the future?

Solar powered cars not new

Solar powered cars have been developed and driven around the world for years, but almost exclusively in contests or research programs designed to show how far cars could travel without gas. In most cases, the cars have been small capsules designed to hold only a driver.

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The challenge has long been finding a way to harness enough solar energy to power a vehicle that could be used every day and carry more than just the driver.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

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