EV startup Lightyear revealed 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 388 miles of range, 44 miles of which are derived from solar power alone.
The Lightyear 0 is the product of six years of research and development from its engineering team. That said, it doesn’t look too dissimilar from the sleek sedan prototype first revealed by the company in 2019. The 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.
Drive for months without having to plug the vehicle in
The inclusion of solar panels, which is rare in the automotive space, is what makes this vehicle stand out. The Lightyear 0 features five square meters (53.8 square feet) of “patented, double curve solar arrays,” allowing the vehicle to charge itself when it’s driving around or just sitting in the sun. Someone who has a daily commute of just under 35km (21 miles) could conceivably drive for months without having to plug the vehicle in for recharging.
“In climates such as the Netherlands, it would be two months and, in Spain or Portugal, as much as seven months,” Lightyear claims.
The Lightyear 0 features a 60kWh battery pack with four electric motors that supply 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 EVs on the market — but speed isn’t really the point when you’re driving a solar-powered car, right?
The interior is predictably minimal but also refined with a nod toward sustainability. The materials are all 100 percent vegan, including microfiber upholstery, plant-based leather, fabrics made from recycled bottles, rattan palm wood trim, and insulated particle foam. The 10.1-inch center 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 features 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
Using solar cells to power an electric vehicle is no small feat. There’s a huge disparity between the amount of solar energy that the best cells can capture and what’s needed to make a two-ton vehicle move at speed. But Lightyear seems further along than most companies pursuing similar projects. There’s a spec sheet! And a production timeline! The company even has a manufacturing partner in Finnish contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive. These are not insignificant milestones.
That said, there’s still a long way to go, and it’s no guarantee Lightyear will get past the finish line. The landscape is dotted with the corpses of EV startups that have bold intentions for the future but still end up succumbing to the harsh realities of automobile manufacturing. In short: making cars is very, very hard, and Lightyear is not special in its pursuit of a revolutionary new form factor.
Lightyear isn’t the only company staring at the sun for inspiration. Aptera — a California startup that crashed in the aftermath of the Great Recession — was recently resurrected and is still plugging away. German startup Sono Motors is also working on a solar-powered electric car. Mercedes-Benz’s Vision EQXX concept includes a solar roof array of 117 cells. 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 the Australian outback that’s meant to advance the idea of solar-powered cars.
Lightyear says it will only make 946 units, with each selling for €250,000 (about $263,262 USD). That high asking price could also be a tough sell. For that money, you could probably buy a top-of-the-line electric car and install solar panels on your house and still have something remaining. Plus, the increased power output of your panels could mean your EV is technically more solar-powered overall.