As solar cells gain affordability and flexibility, they’re no longer the exclusive domain of house rooftops. For electric cars, garages, and everything in, there's plenty of room for some creative ideas.

One such idea was introduced in February by the French company Armor, and as reported in PV Magazine, makes the solar cells part of a modular, retractable car cover, rather than part of the car roof itself.  

The cover uses ASCA photovoltaic modules made with a coating process on flexible, thin polymer film. The films are light and have the advantage that they can bend thousands of times.

A small motor installed in the car’s rear fender operates as a sophisticated roller blind system, retracting the whole cover to a recess in the bumper area, or then pulling it back out along two tracks along the roof. 

Gazelle Tech, the maker of the vehicle, is a French startup that seeks to make a car aimed at developing countries, using half the energy of comparable cars. It finished a second fundraising round of 1.1 million Euros ($1.2 million) last year.

While the gasoline version of Gazelle’s vehicle was first shown last year, the electric version made its debut with the solar cover. It’s a city-sized “urban SUV” that might be offered in either gasoline or electric forms—perhaps for developing countries, and assembled in local “dedicated container micro-factories.” 

The retractable cover contains nine ASCA solar modules, covering 4 square meters (more than 40 square feet) of total surface area. 

Gazelle Tech prototype

Gazelle Tech prototype

The car itself weighs only about 1,500 pounds and has a range of about 110 miles according to the manufacturer—not indicated as WLTP, and certainly not EPA. The company doesn’t list the battery size, but it recharges in four hours at Level 2 and because of the light weight uses 40 percent less energy than a comparable five-seat subcompact. 

Some of those solar cells are over the nearly vertical rear hatch of the car, but that might serve the car well when the sun gets low in the sky. The company claims that it can recover 15 km (about 9 miles) of range with 8 hours of outside exposure. 

One advantage is that upgrades would be easy, versus a permanent solar roof. There aren't any plans yet to sell the cover separately, but with continued refinement, the company anticipates 30 km (19 miles) within three years. 

In the U.S., the only vehicle so far with a solar roof that charges the main (traction) battery is the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid—although the upcoming Sono Sion and Lightyear One aim initially toward Europe and have aims to shake up how we see solar on cars. 

The Gazelle itself has little likelihood of making it to the U.S., but this car-cover idea—and an interface from an automaker that might permit such a thing—could indeed gain some traction. And as your electric vehicle sits parked and unused, apartment-dwellers or renters might than have as much of a chance to earn some miles from the sun while sheltering in place.