Next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will mark the first public appearance of the Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept. Based on a standard C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, the Solar Energi Concept also offers the additional versatility of being able to go "off the grid" to recharge its battery pack. This even-greener variation on the C-Max Energi is fitted with a roof-mounted solar panel array provided by Ford's energy partner SunPower. While capable of generating a modest amount of its own electricity, the real key to the Solar Energi Concept's viability is a low-cost supplemental "solar concentrator" that was developed for Ford at the Georgia Institute of Technology. This freestanding carport-like canopy employs a special Fresnel-type lens that acts like a magnifying glass to amp up the power contained in the sunlight by a factor of eight. 

Also: 2014 Compact Cars at a glance

Capable of tracking the sun's path during the course of a day, Ford says this unique "concentrator" can generate up to 8 kilowatts of electric charge -- the same amount as a conventional four-hour plug-in session. With its 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack fully replenished - a process that would take about 7 hours on a conventional 120V outlet or 2.5 on a dedicated 240V wall charger - the Solar Energi Concept has the same 21-mile pure EV range as the standard C-Max Energi and also nets the same EPA-estimated 108MPGe city/92 MPGe Highway economy ratings. The real difference comes in the dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which Ford's data indicate would be on the order of four metric tons per year for the average owner.  

2014 Compact SUVs at a glance 

"The Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy," said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. "As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future." To that end, Ford and the team at Georgia Tech plan to start real-world testing of the system to determine if it can be further developed into a production application. 

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