No recharging for months, greater autonomy… the first model is enough to make electric drivers drool, apart from the price.
In 2013, a cheerful group of students from the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands participated for the first time in the famous Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. This race, somewhat eccentric, sees experimental solar vehicles, whose design sometimes resembles a famous galactic epic, compete for several days on a 3,000 kilometer circuit in the middle of the Australian desert. However, our students from Solar Team Eindhoven have won the competition three times, in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Some of them are convinced that they have something in the way of solar propulsion. In 2016 they took the leap: Lex Hoefsloot, Arjo van der Ham, Martijn Lammers, Qurein Biewenga and Koen van Ham founded the company Lightyear, in Helmond, not far from Eindhoven. Since then, the company seems to be moving forward at the speed of light: ” In 2017, we presented computer simulations to the public. In June 2019, we rolled out a first working prototypesays Lex Hoefsloot, CEO of the company. So on June 9, 2022, we announced the world’s first production-ready solar car. » This should begin in the fall of 2022. A revolution in the automotive world?
1,000 kilometers of autonomy between two charges
“ Electric cars are a step in the right direction, but they have a scale problem due to charging infrastructure and range limits that make life too complex for the driver », notes Lex Hoefsloot. So many problems to be solved by the Lightyear 0, the brand’s first model, whose futuristic design recalls a 2.0 version of the DeLorean in the saga. Back to the Future.
Lightyear therefore designed patented double-curvature solar panels to install on the roof and hood of his model, covering an area of five square meters. These solar cells thus make it possible to recharge the battery that drives the car’s electric motor when it is driving or when it is parked outside. Used to their maximum capacity, photovoltaic panels can add up to 70 kilometers of autonomy per day to the vehicle, which can also be charged in a socket like any electric car.
“ This allows users to exceed 1,000 kilometers of autonomy between two conventional charges on the network, assures the founder of the startup. This figure was calculated for a daily trip of 50 kilometers in Amsterdam in the summer, and the autonomy will of course depend on the driver’s habits, the location and the season. » Lightyear reports that users of this model, for daily trips of 35 kilometers, could go several weeks without connecting to an outlet. The interval can be two months in the Netherlands or up to seven months in Spain. ” Depending on the climate, you can get 6,000 to 11,000 kilometers of free and effortless range every year », sums up Mr. Hoefsloot.
The solar panels are not the only innovation in the Lightyear 0. Unlike most vehicles, this model does not house all its machinery under the hood, but … in the wheels. The start-up team has thus integrated four motors directly into each of the car’s wheels, which provide far better energy efficiency by preventing electricity from being lost along the transmission shaft. This construction also has the advantage of being lighter, especially since the power from the solar panels makes it possible to reduce the size of the battery. The vehicle is thus one of the lightest in its class with a total weight of 1,575 kg.
This data, combined with extremely refined aerodynamics, also makes it possible to increase the autonomy of the Lightyear 0. The WLTP protocol – the certification process for measuring the performance of vehicles within the EU – has thus determined a range of 625 kilometers for this model, compared to 395 kilometers for a Renault Zoe or 491 kilometers for the base range of a Tesla Model 3. In addition, Lightyear claims that its battery can be recharged up to twice as fast as a comparable vehicle when connected to the mains.
Without giving exact figures, Lex Hoefsloot ensures that the carbon impact of their vehicles is lower than their zero-emission competitors: “ Batteries are generally the most environmentally damaging component in electric vehicles. However, our battery is much less, our influence decreases automatically. » In the same way, the company emphasizes the eco-design of its car: exterior body panels made from recycled carbon, vegetable leather, fabrics made from recycled PET… But of course, all this comes at a cost.
A first model for 260,000 euros
Because to acquire one of the 946 Models 0 from Lightyear, it will be necessary to pay more than a quarter of a million euros, far from the 100,000 euros originally announced. “ Lightyear 0 is above all a proof of concept, equipped with optimal technology. We have developed our components in-house, such as the solar panels and its electronics, as well as the technology for the motors integrated into the wheels. In addition, we had to take into account the rising costs of components », justifies Lex Hoefsloot.
Thanks to a fundraising of 93 million euros in 2021, Lightyear will launch the production of its cars this autumn at the Valmet factory in Finland, which already manufactures several Mercedes-Benz models. The first deliveries will begin in November.
And the startup obviously has no intention of stopping there. It has announced, for the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025, the launch of Lightyear Two, which will be aimed at a mass market and, according to the first information, should be available at a less painful price of between 25,000 and 30,000 euros . However, the features of this model are kept very secret. In any case, the company won its first bet: to show that solar energy technology was already operational. It remains to make it available.