It’s a question we’re sure we’ve all asked ourselves at one point: why not just put solar panels on an electric car? Well, one Dutch firm’s done precisely that. It’s called the Lightyear 0, and it just made history by becoming the world’s first production solar car.
Designed in the Netherlands and in production in Finland by Valmet Automotive (a highly respected vehicle contract manufacturer that also makes cars for Mercedes-Benz and has previously produced Fiskers and Saabs), the high-tech vehicle is set to be a game-changer for the automotive industry.
Sleek and futuristic, it’s a large fastback sedan with a bonnet, roof and boot clad with 5m2 of solar cells, with a record drag coefficient of Cd=0.175. The teardrop-shaped car looks like no other electric car on the market – although it also doesn’t look like some flimsy concept car, either.
The company plans on producing one car a week and gradually scaling up its production in the first quarter of 2023. Again, it’s hard to overstate this: this isn’t just some start-up pipe dream. This is real, and it’s already in production. The future is now, people.
WATCH journalists and customers get a first drive of the Lightyear 0 in Spain below.
So, down to brass tacks: how does the Lightyear 0 work?
Well, ignoring the solar panels, it’s otherwise a rather conventional electric car. It has a 60kWh battery pack that’s capable of being charged in the usual way, which Lightyear says gives the 0 a rather impressive 625km of range or a highway range (at 110 km/h) of 560km. Useful when the sun’s not shining.
However, Lightyear says that the 782 solar cells across the car’s body can add 70km of range per day during summer, with the Lightyear 0 capable of a practical driving range of over 1,000km “between two charging moments” (based on a 50km workday commute in Amsterdam during summer). They also claim an “annual solar yield” of up to 11,000km (based on living in southern Spain).
In essence, in sunny weather and with short commute distances, you could theoretically get away with never having to charge the car, or at the very least, go pretty long periods without having to charge it. You’d still have to charge the car on longer trips, but the solar cells would help extend your range far beyond most standard EVs.
That’s before we even start talking about the convenience and cost-saving factors a self-charging car can offer.
The car is all-wheel drive, with four in-wheel electric hub motors giving it 127kW of power. Lightyear say it’ll do 0-100km/h in 10 seconds and claim a top speed of 160km/h – not particularly amazing numbers, but we guess you have to compromise somewhere.
The interior of the car is also pretty forward-thinking, as it’s crafted from plant-based leather, recycled PET bottle fabrics and sustainably restructured rattan palm. Like a Tesla, it’s got a large centre-mounted touch-screen, but unlike a Tesla, it has a conventional gauge cluster and push-button transmission below the infotainment screen.
It also claims to fit five adults in comfort and boasts 474L of trunk space with the seats up, making it a rather practical daily driver. This isn’t some impractical hypermiler like the BMW i8 or Volkswagen XL1: it’s a pretty normal car.
All in all, despite its big-picture conceit, it actually seems like an eminently reasonable, entirely driveable car. It’s being made by a reputable factory and it’s already starting to make its way to consumers.
The team behind it aren’t your typical skeezy start-up, either. Both the team and the Lightyear 0’s solar panel design were born out of Solar Team Eindhoven: a student-run outfit that’s produced some of the most successful cars of the World Solar Challenge, the world’s best-known solar-powered car race that spans 3,000kms through the Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaide.
Indeed, we can’t think of a better market for the Lightyear 0 than Australia. Australia is one of the sunniest countries on Earth – and also one where having an electric car that can go long distances without charging is obviously highly attractive.
Really, the only catch with the Lightyear 0 is its price. The company plans to only build 150 Lightyear 0s, and is selling them for €250,000 (~US$263,660 / AU$387,050) each. That’s more expensive than a Porsche Taycan Turbo S, for reference.
However, the company has a more affordable car in the pipeline, the Lightyear 2, which will have a smaller battery and less range for the much more accessible price of €30,000 (~US$31,630 / AU$46,450), which will reportedly hit the market in 2025.
Currently, the Lightyear 0 is only available to order in the EU, Switzerland, Norway and the UK… Although the fact they’re making it in right-hand drive means that it could very well make its way Down Under, where its underlying technology was forged.
Yes, it’s very expensive and still somewhat niche, but it’s surprising just how fully realised it is. We’re excited to see where Lightyear go with this bold new vision for motoring – and if other companies will now start rolling out solar-powered passenger vehicles of their own…
Find out more about the Lightyear 0 here.