Lightyear says its $263,000 solar-powered car will go into production later this year


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

The Lightyear 0 is the product of six years of research and development by its team of engineers. That said, it doesn’t look too different from the sleek sedan prototype first revealed by the company in 2019. Specs are a little more down to earth: 388 miles versus the prototype’s 450 miles – but the overall shape and design of the vehicle appear mostly unchanged.

The inclusion of solar panels, which is rare in the automotive space, is what sets this vehicle apart. The Lightyear 0 has five square meters (53.8 square feet) of “patented double-curve solar panels”, allowing the vehicle to charge while driving or just sitting in the sun. Someone with a daily commute of just under 21 miles (35 km) could possibly drive for months without having to plug the vehicle in to charge.

“In climates like the Netherlands it would be two months and in Spain or Portugal up to seven months,” says Lightyear.

The Lightyear 0 includes a 60 kWh battery with four electric motors that deliver 174 horsepower and 1,269 lb-ft of torque. Lightyear says the vehicle will sprint from zero to 62mph in 10 seconds and reach a top speed of 100mph – which is certainly less than most electric vehicles on the market – but speed isn’t really the point when you drive a solar powered car, right?

The interior is, as you might expect, minimalist but also refined with a nod to sustainability. Materials are all 100% vegan, including microfiber filling, plant-based leather, fabrics made from recycled bottles, rattan palm wood trim, and insulated particle foam. The central 10.1-inch touchscreen runs on Android Automotive, which is Google’s native operating system that’s also found in a bunch of Volvo and Polestar vehicles. And the Lightyear 0 includes all the other high-tech doodads, like phone-as-key capability, over-the-air software updates and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Using solar cells to power an electric vehicle is no small feat. There is a huge disparity between the amount of solar energy the best cells can capture and what is needed to rapidly move a two-tonne vehicle. But Lightyear seems more advanced than most companies pursuing similar projects. There is a spec sheet! And a production schedule! The company even has a manufacturing partner in Finnish subcontractor Valmet Automotive. These are not negligible steps.

That said, there is still a long way to go and there is no guarantee that Lightyear will cross the finish line. The landscape is littered with the corpses of EV startups that have bold intentions for the future but always end up succumbing to the harsh realities of auto manufacturing. In short: making cars is very, very difficult, and Lightyear is no special in its quest for a revolutionary new form factor.

Lightyear isn’t the only company looking to the sun for inspiration. Aptera — a California startup that crashed in the aftermath of the Great Recession — was recently resurrected and still going strong. German startup Sono Motors is also working on a solar-powered electric car. Mercedes-Benz’s Vision EQXX concept features a 117-cell solar rooftop array. And Toyota has promised an optional solar roof for its recently released BZ4X electric SUV.

The company was founded in 2016 by a team of engineers who had competed together in the World Solar Challenge, a race held every few years in outback Australia that aims to advance the idea of ​​solar-powered cars.

Lightyear says it will only make 946 units, each selling for €250,000 (about $263,262). This high asking price could also be a tough sell. For that money, you could probably buy a high-end electric car and install solar panels on your house. and there is still something left. Additionally, increasing the power output of your panels could mean that your electric vehicle is technically no longer powered by solar energy.


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