The Lightyear One is the world’s first long-range solar-powered electric car. It can be charged via its solar panels or plugged into a conventional charger. It replenishes its battery while parked or in motion. Lightyear claims a 450-mile range. The price starts at $170,000 and a European release is expected for early 2021.
Netherlands startup Lightyear unveiled its solar-powered Lightyear One prototype vehicle today. 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.
“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 three times in a row, in 2013, 2015, and 2017.
“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 450 miles from a “relatively small battery.” The solar panels alone can generate up to about 12,500 driving miles per year. Thanks to its relatively lightweight and efficient design, the car will go further on a charge from conventional methods. Hoefsloot said that you can get a 250-mile charge overnight from a 230V outlet. You can also plug into fast charging stations.
“We optimized every part from the chassis to the side mirrors, from the crash cone to the luggage compartment,” Lightyear says on its website regarding the car’s aerodynamics. 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.
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.
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 getting sun 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 7.5 miles of range per hour.The solar panels alone can generate up to about 12,500 driving miles per year
The solar cells measure five square meters and are encased in safety glass. A full-grown adult can walk over the panels without causing any damage.
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 40 miles of range per day.
The Lightyear One seats five adults and comes with over-the-air software updates, a companion app, wireless key, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. The website lists a 0 to 62 mph time of 10 seconds.
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 is early 2021 for Europe. There is no mention whether or not this car will come to the U.S.
The company says the first 100 cars are already spoken for, and you can put your name down for one of the remaining Pioneer Edition Lightyear One cars for a $135,000 reservation fee. There is also a leasing plan that starts at $2,135 per month.
Lightyear has its own production facility in Helmond and it employs over 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.