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Lightyear Solar-powered Car: $263,000 will go into Production

EV startup Lightyear unveiled its first solar-powered electric vehicle, dubbed Lightyear 0, at an event this week in the Netherlands. The car, which Lightyear represents as production-ready, has 388 miles of range, 44 miles of which are derived from solar power alone.

The Lightyear 0 is the product of its engineering team’s six years of research and development. That said, it doesn’t look too distinct from the sleek sedan prototype first disclosed by the company in 2019.

The specifications are a little more down to earth: 388 miles v/s the prototype’s 450 miles but the overall figure and design of the vehicle appear primarily unchanged.

The inclusion of solar panels, rare in the automotive space, makes this vehicle stand out. The Lightyear 0 characterizes five square meters (53.8 square feet) of “patented, double curve solar arrays,” allowing the car to charge itself when driving or just sitting in the sun. Someone with a daily commute of just under 35km (21 miles) could conceivably go for months without having to plug the automobile in for recharging.

“In climates like the Netherlands, it would be two months and, in Spain or Portugal, as long as seven months,” Lightyear asserts.

The Lightyear 0 holds a 60kWh battery pack with four electric motors that deliver 174 horsepower and 1,269 lb-ft of torque. Lightyear says the vehicle will run from zero to 62mph in 10 seconds and get a top speed of 100mph which is less than most EVs on the market but speed isn’t the moment when you’re pushing; a solar-powered car, right?

The interior is predictably minimal but also purified with a nod toward sustainability. The fabrics are all 100 percent vegan, including plant-based leather, materials made from recycled bottles, microfiber upholstery, rattan palm wood trim, and insulated particle foam. The 10.1-inch center touchscreen operates on Android Automotive, which is Google’s native operating system and is also found in Volvo and Polestar vehicles. And the Lightyear 0 features all the other high-tech doohickeys, like over-the-air software updates, phone-as-key capability, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Using solar cells to power an electric vehicle is no small feat. There’s a massive disparity between the amount of solar energy the best cells can capture and what’s required to make a two-ton vehicle move at speed. But Lightyear appears further along than most companies seeking similar projects. There’s a spec sheet! And a production timeline! The company even includes a manufacturing partner in Finnish contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive. These are not little milestones.

That said, there’s still a long path to go, and it’s no guarantee Lightyear will get past the finish line. Unfortunately, the landscape is dotted with the corpses of EV startups with bold intentions for the future but still succumbing to the harsh realities of automobile manufacturing. In short, making cars is very hard, and Lightyear is not exceptional in pursuing a revolutionary new form factor.

Lightyear isn’t the only company gazing at the sun for inspiration. Aptera a California startup colliding after the Great Recession was recently resurrected and is still shooting away. German startup Sono Motors is also performing on a solar-powered electric car. Mercedes-Benz’s Vision EQXX concept contains a solar roof array of 117 cells. And Toyota has pledged an optional solar roof for its recently released BZ4X electric SUV.

The company was established in 2016 by a team of engineers who had competed in the World Solar Challenge. A race maintained every few years in the Australian outback meant to advance the concept of solar-powered autos.

Lightyear states it will only make 946 units, each selling for 250,000 (about USD 263,262). That high asking cost could also be a tough sell. However, for that money, you could probably buy a top-of-the-line electric car, install solar panels on your house, and still have something remaining. In addition, the increased power output of your panels could mean your EV is technically more solar-powered overall.

The Lightyear One is an upcoming all-solar-electric car. Production was scheduled to start in 2021, with a price of 149,000 incl. VAT. The first units are to be delivered in 2022.

The Lightyear One is a large fastback, with the bonnet, roof, and boot clad with 5 m2 (54 sq ft) of solar panels, with a WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure) range of 725 km (450 miles) and designed with a drag coefficient of Cd=0.20. In addition, the company Lightyear claims 1,000 solar panels across the car can add 5065 km (3040 miles) of range per day during summer.

The car is all-wheel drive, with four electric hub motors powered by a low-mounted battery. It seats five adults and luggage. The solar panel design was born out of the Solar Team Eindhoven’s solar-powered cars for the World Solar Challenge. Layout work on the One was carried out together with GranStudio in Italy.