Did Subaru Let It Slip That The New Japanese-Market Solterra Will Be Solar-Powered?

Subaru is launching its first battery electric vehicle (BEV), the Solterra. The automaker plans to unveil this groundbreaking crossover SUV during the LA autoshow. But with Subaru twitter leaks and Subaru International dropping the Japanese-market car’s spec sheet, the secret it out: The 2023 Subaru Solterra gets its earth-friendly name from its rooftop solar panel.

The solar roof on the 2023 Subaru Solterra

The first big clue that the Subaru battery electric vehicle would feature a rooftop solar panel was its name. Before Subaru unveiled anything about its upcoming fully-electric vehicle, it announced the new SUV was called the Solterra. Subaru added that the name is inspired by the Latin words for sun (sol) and earth (terra). It is unsurprising that an earth-friendly brand would incorporate “terra” into the name of its car. But “sol” is a bit unexpected.

The second clue to the Solterra’s solar-panel feature was Subaru’s advertising. Most of Subaru’s earliest pictures of the Solterra showed it below a prominent sun.

Subaru International released a teaser video of the Japanese-market Solterra this morning. The one-minute video shows a couple in a sunroof-optioned 2023 Subaru Solterra, so no rooftop solar panel. But the sun is a major feature of the entire teaser. The first scene is the couple camping and then rising with the sun. They drive all day and most shots of the car show the sun above it. Finally, they park and watch the sunset over the ocean.

When Subaru released the Solterra teaser video, it also dropped a spec sheet for the Japanese-market car. This PDF details the vehicle’s power, weight, and size. Subaru specifies headroom for two models: the optional sunroof or “glass roof” and the “normal / solar roof.”

The automaker plans to unveil the 2023 Subaru Solterra at the LA Autoshow on November 17th and make a big announcement. It is possible Subaru will announce the Solterro will ship with a rooftop solar panel standard. The new Subaru Solterra signals a trend towards increasingly environmentally-friendly electric vehicles.

Are solar-powered EVs worth it?

This is the solar-powered 2023 Subaru Solterra EV | Subaru Youtube Channel
2023 Subaru Solterra EV | Subaru Youtube Channel

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Solar-power has long been a holy grail of electric vehicles. Using solar panels to charge your car may seem too good to be true. But hobbyists have long experimented with solar panel trailers. Several electric vehicle prototypes feature rooftop solar panels for this reason. These include the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Genesis G80, Toyota bZ4X, and Tesla Cybertruck. All of these vehicles plug in to standard wall chargers and leverage rooftop solar panels to extend their range.

There are several reasons rooftop solar panels are not more common on current EVs. Firstly, solar panels are expensive components, and more delicate than a metal roof. Therefore, falling icicles or tree branches could do costly damage to a solar-panel-topped car parked outdoors. Secondly, integrated solar panels would increase the overall price of an EV. Finally, current solar panel technology contributes very little to the overall charge of an EV battery pack. Electreck estimates you would need five full-size solar panels on your house to charge your EV daily. A smaller panel on your EV roof would take days to fully charge its battery.

The 2023 Subaru Solterra shares technology with the Toyota bZ4X

FWD Subaru SolterraAWD Subaru Solterra
DrivetrainSingle front axle electric motorDual, front and rear axle electric motors
Battery71.4 kWh Lithium-ion battery71.4 kWh Lithium-ion battery
Weight4,250 pounds4,450 pounds
Range330 miles285 miles
OptionsSunroofSunroof, 20-inch rims
This is a still from the 2023 Subaru Solterra unveiling. | Subaru Youtube Channel
2023 Subaru Solterra EV | Subaru Youtube Channel

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This 2023 Subaru Solterra and the Toyota bZ4X are the products of a Toyota and Subaru joint project. Small automakers such as Subaru struggle with the steep cost of developed new EV tech and Toyota owns 20% of Subaru. For the time being, Toyota will actually build the Subaru Solterra.

The new Toyota bZ4X is also a fully-electric crossover. One option on the bZ4X is a rooftop solar panel. Toyota predicts that the panel will produce the “electricity equivalent” of approximately 1,120 miles every year. This is certainly a considerable charge. But once the bZ4X is released, we will see what the real-world number is.

We do not yet know whether every Subaru Solterra without a sunroof will include the rooftop solar panel, or if it will be an expensive option. The spec sheet’s designation of “normal / solar roof” may stand for two separate roofs with identical headroom. Or it may stand for a single roof option that is both the normal roof (non-sunroof) and integrates a solar panel. It is possible that as Toyota integrates Subaru into its product lineup, it will position the brand as an environmentally friendly upsell. In this case, features such as rooftop solar panels may become standard on all future Subaru EVs.