Since being founded in 2016, Lightyear has come a long way. The Dutch company is developing long-range solar electric vehicles. It recently achieved an important milestone, by driving 710 km of range with its Lightyear One prototype car.
Auto Future has been talking to Lex Hoefsloot, CEO and co-founder of Lightyear. He began by telling us its backstory.
“The history of Lightyear lies in the World Solar Challenge. A team from the Eindhoven University of Technology competed and became world champions by building a 5 seater solar car that was able to drive between 1000 – 1500km on a single battery charge. The first time they did that was in 2013. Around that time the first EVs came into the streets, having a range of 100-250km,” says Hoefsloot
“Most importantly during the race they noticed that the gasoline cars had to stop at the gas station for a refill whereas the solar car could just continue with driving.”
“The experience and technology achievement from this race made the founders of Lightyear realize that there is actually a large potential for solar cars in the commercial market, breaking some of the barriers for EV adoption (range, charging, and in the end costs),” he adds.
Since 2017, Lightyear has been developing the Lightyear One prototype. In July, 2021, the car was successfully driven over 440 miles (710 km) on a single battery charge of 60 kWh.
The prototype was put to the test at the Aldenhoven Testing Center in Germany, to complete a drive cycle at a speed of 53 miles per hour.
“Lowering the energy consumption per mile of an EV means that you can provide a lot of range on a small battery. Because batteries are the most expensive part of an EV, you can lower the purchase price of the car and achieve affordable electric cars with a lot of range that don’t need a lot of charging. Low-energy consuming cars can also benefit a lot more from adding solar cells to the car and gain about 45 miles of charge on a sunny day,” Hoefsloot stated in a press release.
The Benefits of Solar Mobility
The outstanding feature of the Lightyear One is its roof which contains five square metres of solar panels. With a fully charged battery, Lightyear One’s range is 725 km on the WLTP drive cycle.
But we wanted to know why did Lightyear chose to utilise solar power, especially as the company is based in a Northern European country that is not exactly famous for its sunny weather.
“It offers independence: you can just park your car and it will charge. Solar cells have become increasingly cheap and they provide you clean, free and hassle free energy. Already with our first model, in the Netherlands, during the summer you can drive for months without charging. Our goal is to deliver a car that, in 15 years time, will make sure you only need to charge once or twice a year, for every average driver in Europe,” responds Hoefsloot.
“You can always drive the car during periods when there isn’t daylight, as the Lightyear One can be charged by regular EV (fast) chargers or a normal power sockets. Nice to know: even with a full moon your Lightyear will charge a bit.”
For the manufacturing of Lightyear One exclusive series, it has decided to work with Finland’s Valmet Automotive.
Olaf Bongwald, CEO of Valmet Automotive, comments: “Our experience as a car manufacturer, as well as our focus on electric mobility and battery systems make us predestined for processes in which mobility must be redefined. We are ready to enter new areas also in manufacturing cars and are therefore pleased that Lightyear has selected us as their production partner.”
Hoefsloot adds: “The first volume will be an exclusive volume of 946 cars and will only delivered in Europe from the summer of 2022. These are pioneer/statement cars to show the concept, build our brand and the markets.”
“After that, in 2024/2025, we want to scale up to a mass market model at a price point of below $50.000. This car will be delivered in the US and Asia as well,” he says.
“We expect a large focus on EVs and clean and solar mobility in general.”
In September 2021, Lightyear announced it had raised $110 million (€93 million) in funding in 2021 to date, including investment from the international insurance group DELA. These funds will be used for the further development and production of Lightyear One, and for the expansion of its operations.
The company is exploring options for opening new office and development locations in the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Utrecht), Germany, and the UK.
“We are at the forefront of a historical market opportunity, by introducing the first cars on the market that charge their battery directly from the sun, completely free. It is great to see the acknowledgement from investors, which is a testament to the confidence that they have in Lightyear”, says Hoefsloot.
“Thanks to the trust and funding received from our investors, we can further grow as a company and bring our Lightyear One exclusive model on the market in 2022. We are very grateful for the support of all our investors and happy to welcome more to join our journey and mission, to create a more sustainable future,” he adds.
Frank Eizinga, Chief Investment Officer, DELA, comments: “We are proud to say that at DELA, decision making is guided by principles of sustainability and long term impact. These principles also guide our investment strategy, so we are very pleased to invest in Lightyear’s great mission to provide clean mobility for everybody and contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future.”
Finally, we asked Hoefsloot what the urban mobility will look like by the end of the decade.
“We expect a large focus on EVs and clean and solar mobility in general. This includes the car sharing concept. At Lightyear, we are currently also looking into possibilities around car sharing and how we can make sure to bring clean mobility to everyone, everywhere,” he concludes.