Lightyear starts production of the first solar electric car

The Dutch start-up Lightyear has just started production of its first vehicle, which aims to be a 100% electric efficiency model, with advanced aerodynamics and the possibility of recovering around 70 km of autonomy per day just thanks to the sun. 🇧🇷 But at 250,000 euros, this car is more of a demonstrator, to lower costs and launch a much more affordable model in 2025.

It is a crucial stage in its young history that Lightyear has just begun. This start-up founded in 2016 in the Netherlands has just started production of the first solar-powered electric car. The expected follow-up to the prototype presented in 2019 and which already gave the general outline of the project.

The alliance between a start-up and a historic player

A record amount of development time, some investors and a pandemic later, we meet one of the company’s founders, Lex Hoefsloot, on November 30, 2022 at a subcontractor’s factory in Finland. Lightyear’s general manager arrives at a stage housed in a former warehouse converted into an assembly line, where production of the Lightyear 0 has just begun.

“Anyone can make a prototype, even on the road. But going through those steps and getting to the production line is the death valley for innovation. Especially when you want to offer a car centered and dedicated to solar technology, the risks are even greater bigger”, said the young co-founder of Lightyear, who 10 years earlier won a student competition in Australia with the University of Eindhoven and a car already covered in solar panels.

The latest pre-series copy of the Lightyear 0 lets you enjoy a design centered on aerodynamics.
The latest pre-series copy of the Lightyear 0 lets you enjoy a design centered around aerodynamics. © JB

For this first production model, the choice ended up being the factory of a Finnish automotive supplier, Valmet Automotive, in the town of Uusikaupunki, a 3-hour drive from Helsinki. A relatively unknown actor, but who could bring his experience of nearly 50 years in car assembly for brands like Porsche or Mercedes. The brand A-class with the star is leaving the factory, which also produced a certain Fisker Karma, Henrik Fisker’s first rechargeable hybrid test.

Valmet recently teamed up with Chinese battery giant CATL and started producing batteries partly for use in automobiles. Furthermore, if they were “made in Europe”, Lex Hoefsloot assured us, Lightyear still does not specify the origin of its batteries and whether there would be a link with this partnership with its subcontractor.

On the Lightyear 0 assembly line, advanced technologies and green plants.
On the Lightyear 0 assembly line, advanced technologies and green plants. © JB

The assembly line is more like a large manufacturing workshop, with elements almost cartoonish for a company that fully claims to want to “save the world”, or at least prevent it from sinking into climate hell, with its “eco-responsible” cars. . 🇧🇷 In an immaculate white environment, now quite classic in modern factories, green plants sit enthroned in front of large posters that evoke nature with slogans promising “a zero-emissions future”.

From a prototype car to a real mass-produced model

First goal: produce one Lightyear 0 a week, before ramping up a little more. But at 250,000 euros per unit, this vehicle must be seen above all as a demonstrator of the technologies that the start-up can offer. With the ambition of offering a Lightyear 2 (the prototype of the 0 had already carried the number “One”), for 30,000 euros in 2025. A big difference that may remind Elon Musk’s initial project at Tesla, for whom success with top-of-the-range models, Model S and Model X, should eventually allow the offer of a much more accessible vehicle: the Model 3.

“The Lightyear 2 will be a family car, not a city car, the flagship family car with potential interest in markets where there is a lack of charging infrastructure,” said Lex Hoefsloot.

The Lightyear 0 is covered with 5 square meters of solar panels, from the rear spoiler to the end of the hood.
The Lightyear 0 is covered with 5 square meters of solar panels, from the rear spoiler to the end of the hood. © JB

Lightyear’s main technological feat, these solar panels cover a total surface area of ​​5 square meters, from the rear to the front of the vehicle. Enough to recover 20 kilometers of autonomy by remaining parked for two hours and up to 70 kilometers a day.

“Depending on the climate, you can recover between 6,000 and 11,000 kilometers of free, effortless and clean autonomy each year”, summarizes the start-up.

In addition to this source of energy from the sky, Lightyear also wants to make its vehicle a model of efficiency, which also explains its very high cost. For the first time, it’s not (only) because of the battery: it only has a capacity of 60 kWh, relatively limited for a big road car. But this saves weight and therefore, in a sense, autonomy.

Among the Lightyear 0's lightness secrets, a fully carbon structure, an aluminum frame and a battery of limited size.
Among the Lightyear 0’s lightness secrets, a fully carbon structure, an aluminum frame and a battery of limited size. © JB

Lightyear’s engineers also sought to save as little grass as possible by adopting a carbon frame and aluminum chassis. All in all, the weight of 1,575 tonnes remains quite low for a vehicle of this size.

Even the front daytime running lights are not covered with glass. “We had to choose between losing aerodynamics and adding an element that would add weight,” explains Patrick Creevey, product manager and formerly of Jaguar Land Rover. He is still surprised by the vehicle’s design time compared to what is traditionally done in cars.

Efficiency over performance

Aerodynamics is also another essential building block for Lightyear. With a Cx, the air penetration index of 0.1775, a record in automotive production. Finally, the 0 can count on four-wheel engines, connected to a battery management system, making it one of the most efficient vehicles on the roads, with energy losses limited to the maximum.

The performances are therefore deliberately inexpressive, with a 0 to 100 km/h for example achieved in 10 seconds, or 4 more than the less efficient Model 3. But the key is record consumption: Lightyear evokes an incredible 10.5 kWh per 100 km at a steady speed of 100 km/h. What so considers driving more than 600 km on a single charge, the sun can also provide a surplus of energy during the rolling phases.

Inside the latest pre-production example of Lightyear 0.
Inside the latest pre-production example of the Lightyear 0. © JB

There remains the question of the more classic recharge, without necessarily depending on the sun’s rays. If the latter can provide 10 km of autonomy per hour, nothing to really count on for a long trip. Fortunately, we can connect the 0, but here again we remain in some moderation, with a maximum of 50 kW of charging power, or about an hour for an almost full charge.

Here again, a certain counterpoint to the current superiority in this area. Tesla, for example, offers five times more power, at 250 kW, in its latest V3 superchargers.

Lightyear’s promise of a truly green car appears to be hitting the mark anyway, with 150 reservations now to be honored by the neo-industrial start-up. What so quickly accumulates experience and production volumes that allow it to offer its Lightyear 2, or the future solar car to everyone.

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