Like pixies and pegasus, the idea of a solar powered car is dreamy and perfect. Who wouldn’t want a sun-powered car? Who doesn’t want to ditch lines and bills at the gas station? This the car can go up to 450 miles on a single charge, with solar panels covering five square meters of roof that can recover up to 12km of range per hour. This the car has four electric motors! This car… sounds almost too good to be true, right?
Lightyear 0 first generation (see website is called light year.one) began production for the European market in December 2022, the company claims, although a video of it “Production line” looks more like someone’s garage than a factory. (The company says the factory that makes the Mercedes A-Class will eventually handle production.)
Now, at CES 2023, the company has unveiled the next-gen Lightyear 2 – and no, we’re not sure what happened to version 1 either.
“We’re applying all the lessons – and there’s a lot – from Lightyear 0 to Lightyear 2,” Alexandre Hoefsloot, CEO and co-founder of Lightyear, told me. But this is only the beginning, and it takes time to create a new car, much less one that is powered by the sun. “It will take another two and a half years to get to production… you know the automotive industry. It takes a long time,” he said.
Disclaimer: I and other members of the press were allowed to take a look at the new model. But I was unable to photograph it or record videos for you. Still, I took a good look. and that’s really nice!
As with the 0, the Lightyear 2 harnesses the power of the sun with solar panels on the hood, roof and above the trunk. They are hybrid vehicles, meaning they are not entirely dependent on sunlight for power; it is only about reducing dependence on strained power grids. In fact, they also reverse the scenario by feeding clean energy back into the grid, the company claims.
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Rainbows and unicorns sound great too, don’t they? Unfortunately, the company’s onepager is as light in detail as the sun. To validate the car’s viability and answer some key questions, joined the company for an exclusive showcase at CES in Las Vegas.
“In a decent solar car, our definition is that at least half of all the energy needed in a year must come from the sun,” Hoefsloot told me. “Even in the Netherlands. It’s the cloudiest country in the world, so we think that’s a pretty good definition.” It’s a smart definition that takes into account seasonality: you’ll get less sunlight in winter than in summer, but that doesn’t mean your solar car is off for half the year. You’ll just pay more per mile in winter.
The inside of the Model 2 is surprisingly simplistic: there’s a large LCD panel, like a Tesla Model 3 (Hoefsloot told me he drives one himself). But there is no instrument cluster and almost nothing else at your fingertips other than the steering wheel. Instead of the speedometer there is an opening compartment. And a small display between the handlebars and the windshield that shows speed and range and any other specs you need.
“Target below $40,000? Achieve this with a completely new concept? It’s a challenge. So everything you see here in the interior is also focused on how to get to those cost levels,” said Hoefsloot. Therefore, the doors are made of recycled plastic, the textiles on the front fascia add splash and character, but in the end it is a bit stripped down.
Our first client meets his car on Dutch soil for the first time. pic.twitter.com/K14QwsSw3wDecember 20, 2022
In July 2021, the company said it was working with Finnish company Valmet to build prototypes for the Lightyear 0, which has a six-figure price tag. Last summer, the company finally opened its barn door to show the world the fruits of half a decade of work: a $250,000, solar-powered electric car that can run for up to seven months without connecting to a conventional charger.
Several companies, in addition to Lightyear, are currently on the verge of producing scalable solar powered vehicles that could soon hit the road. Mercedes, Hyundai, Tesla and Toyota, to name a few major brands, are actively developing solar-powered models or hybrid versions.
Major issues that continue to plague the deployment of these vehicles include difficulties in producing safe, reliable, and cost-effective vehicle integration modules, as well as reduced power generation due to bad weather and other obstructions (consider the number of buildings, bridges, trees, and tunnels blocking the panels roof).
But solar powered cars? Who wouldn’t want that? We hold our breath for unicorns.
Correction: January 8, 2023 An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Lightyear’s manufacturing partner. The correct name is Valmet, not Valnet. The title of this article has also been changed for clarity to reflect the fact that production will start in 2025, but sales are likely to start sooner.