Last year, Netherlands startup Lightyear unveiled its solar-powered Lightyear One prototype vehicle. The event took place at the TheaterHangaar in Katwijk, the Netherlands, and was timed to coincide with the local sunrise. Famed English author and adventurer Alastair Humphreys warmed up the crowd and then Lightyear CEO and co-founder Lex Hoefsloot took the stage. We now have more details on this alternative fuel vehicle.

“Two years of dreaming, thinking and working hard have led to this milestone, which is a giant leap towards achieving our mission of making clean mobility available to everyone,” Hoefsloot said.

Lightyear was formed in 2016 by members of Solar Team Eindhoven, which competed in the biennial Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. The event began in 1987 and the team from the Eindhoven University of Technology took home victory in the Cruiser Class four times in a row, in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019.

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“We all have a performance background and with that we focus relentlessly on to optimize efficiency and safety,” Hoefsloot said. “The main goal of the car is to fill in where electric cars fall short. Research has shown that range and the lack of charging options are still the top concerns that people have when considering electric cars.”

Add light, then add lightness

According to an official press release, the Lightyear One has a range of 725 kilometers (450 miles) from a “relatively small battery.” The solar panels alone can generate up to about 12,500 driving miles per year. Lightyear claims its solar panels “provide about 20 percent more energy than traditional ones.”

Thanks to its relatively lightweight and efficient design, the car will go further on a charge from conventional methods. You can get a 220-mile charge overnight from a 230V outlet. You can also plug into fast charging stations, which will get you 350 miles of range within an hour.

“We carefully consider each component, from chassis to the side mirrors, to streamline the design,” the Lightyear One website states. “Optimised airflow around and under the car results in a more energy efficient vehicle.” The priority for efficiency continues to the wheels, which each get their own electric motor. Each wheel produces its own power as needed and the loss of energy is minimal between the wheel and motor. “State-of-the-art” materials were used to reduce weight while keeping industry safety standards up to par.

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The practice of putting motors in each wheel might raise flags when it comes to unsprung weight. This measurement is comprised of vehicle components not supported by the suspension of the vehicle, including the wheels. Adding electric motors adds unsprung weight, which compromises performance. In a video from Fully Charged, Hoefsloot addresses this concern, stating that since the car was designed from the beginning to use motors in the wheels, they were able to “integrate the suspension very well with the motor and the rim to reduce weight.” He concludes by saying that the system is “marginally more heavy” than what you get on a normal car.

The website lists a 0 to 62 mph time of 10 seconds.

Gunning for Tesla?

The Lightyear One was co-designed with the Turin-based design & research studio Granstudio. The company cites a Cd (drag coefficient) value below 0.20. Compare this with the Tesla Model 3 Cd of .23, itself an impressive feat. And speaking of that company, Lightyear recently brought on former Tesla senior director Johan Vos as its chief commercial officer.

“My goal is to accelerate Lightyear’s mission, through an organization that provides a seamless journey for our customers; from order, delivery to highly valued services,” Vos said in a blog post.

Chasing the sun

The Lightyear One’s battery charges as long as the sun is out. The solar cells operate independently of each other. So if you park the car with half the panels in the shadows, the parts exposed to sunlight will still charge. And unlike an electric vehicle, the panels on the roof and hood continually charge the battery as you drive along, producing up to 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of range per hour.

Unlike an electric vehicle, the panels on the roof and hood continually charge the battery as you drive along

The solar cells measure five square meters (16.4  feet) in total and are encased in safety glass. A full-grown adult can walk over the panels without causing any damage. The panels are manufactured by Dutch startup SunPower, using its Maxeon solar technology. A SunPower-equipped solar car called Honda Dream took home first place at the 1993 World Solar Challenge.

“It didn’t just win the competition,” SunPower founder Dr. Richard Swanson said. “It beat more than 50 contenders by a full day and shattered the previous record held by General Motors. It was that one particular adventure in the hot, arid Australian Outback that first put SunPower on the map.”

Carefree cruising

The Lightyear One website contains a section where you plug in your location and it lets you know how many days of “carefree range” you get during the sunny months. We put in New York City, since that’s where we come from. The graph showed that for 70 days, from June 26 to September 4, the car’s solar panels will generate about 40 miles of range per day. So you can theoretically drive that distance during each of those days without having to plug in.

If you happen to run out of juice, you can drive slowly (up to 12 mph) using the charge the panels are absorbing to get you to an outlet. This is assuming it’s daytime, of course.

The Lightyear One seats five adults and comes with over-the-air software updates, a companion app, wireless key, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a wireless charging pad, and child seat anchors.

All aboard the solar train

Lightyear calls itself a technology company rather than a car company. And as with any new tech, it doesn’t come cheap. The Lightyear One starts at the equivalent of just under $170,000 including value-added tax (VAT). The expected delivery for the Pioneer Edition is early 2021 for Europe. This model will go to the first 100 buyers. The Lightyear One model is scheduled for a mid-2021 release.

There is no mention whether or not this car will come to the stateside, but Lightyear did take a car to the San Francisco Bay Area last October to “explore the U.S. market.”

Lightyear brought along a vehicle to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) this week, where it was featured at Holland Tech Square.

The company said the first 100 cars are already spoken for, and you can put down about $132,000 for one of the remaining Pioneer Edition Lightyear One car. When we reported on the vehicle last year, there was a leasing plan listed at about $2,135 per month. The website currently doesn’t show the price, but does state that leasing is only available in the Netherlands.

Lightyear has its own production facility in Helmond and it employs more than 100 people, including former Tesla and Ferrari workers. The company has won the CES Climate Change Innovator award and was a Postcode Lottery Green Challenge Finalist. More recently, Lightyear received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Early adopters who can afford this vehicle will contribute to its development. There will be limited initial production and this should be viewed as a proof of concept for the road. Remember when electric and hybrid vehicles first timidly hit the streets? Now we can’t walk a Manhattan block without bumping into a Toyota Prius or Tesla vehicle.

Update notes: Added more details on the Lightyear One design and performance.

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