A worker checks up the logo of a car at one of Audi's production lines.
German premium automaker Audi AG has teamed up with Hong Kong-listed Chinese solar cell producer Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Ltd to develop solar-powered cars.
As the first step for their collaboration, Hanergy's United States affiliate, Alta Devices, will provide gallium arsenide thin-film solar cells for the panoramic glass roofs of Audi's electric cars, according to their memorandum of understanding released last week.
The cells produced in California will produce energy to power a vehicle's air conditioner, seat heaters and other electric functions, helping to extend range of electric cars.
"The range of electric cars plays a decisive role in customers' choices," said Bernd Martens, a board member of Audi for procurement.
He said that the agreement marks a milestone on the way to achieve sustainable, emission-free mobility.
On future models, the whole roof will be covered with solar cells, and ultimately the two plan to charge a car's battery using solar power.
The first Audi prototype with Hanergy's solar cells will be presented by the end of this year. But neither Audi nor Hanergy gave a timeframe for the commercial production of solar-powered cars.
The partnership makes Audi the latest global carmaker to join the push to put photovoltaics on car roofs.
Tesla said earlier this month its newly-launched Model 3 could come with a solar roof. Nissan already offers a solar panel option for its Leaf electric cars. By end of April, Toyota had delivered a total of 1,350 new Prius plug-in cars with solar cells in Japan.
Solar cells are very thin and flexible and promise zero-emission energy powered cars, according to Hanergy. They also perform well in low sunlight and high temperature conditions.
Hanergy last year unveiled four concept solar-powered vehicles under its own nameplate, which are designed to have a range of 80 to 100 kilometers.
Zhang Bin, Hanergy's senior vice-president, said its solar-powered automobile sector includes accessories and solutions for rooftops, range extension and entire traction.
"They are at different R&D stages, and we are pushing ahead with plans for volume production," Zhang said.
Hanergy forecast that the market for solar-cell vehicle roofs in China will total 1.2 trillion yuan in the years to 2022.
Audi currently produces a variety of gasoline-powered models, such as the A6 and A4 sedans as well as Q5 SUV, in China in a joint venture with FAW Group.
Last year, it delivered 591,500 cars in the country. Audi expects fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids to account for a third of its total deliveries annually around 2025. The company sold 1.87 million cars globally last year.