Amongst the multi-story manufacturer pavilions that graced the lawns at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last week, there was a single pod containing a single vehicle, from a Dutch startup that claims to have the world’s first long range solar car.
The company, Lightyear, has its origins in the scientific and engineering world of Eindhoven University of Technology, where five former students met to compete in the World Solar Challenge - a biennial road race across the Australian Outback, that aims to promote development into solar-powered transport.
After proving their engineering and endurance worth, by winning the title in both 2013 and 2015, the team pooled their prize money, development grants and a slew of funds from investors, to launch a new type of EV. One that promotes “clean mobility available to everyone, everywhere”as a guiding mission.
Their prototype facility near Eindhoven now employs 135 people and aims to churn out 1,500 cars each year, from 2021.
As Lightyear Co-founder and Chief of Strategy Martijn Lammers, explains “Lightyear is all about Freedom, using flexible charging options to extend range as far as possible.”
“Most EVs have to remain in striking distance of available fast-charging infrastructure. Our Lightyear One EV provides the flexibility to use ordinary domestic power outlets, anywhere in the world, while also topping-up via solar energy. Our aim is to beat range anxiety.”
According to Lammers, the roof and hood are comprised of five square meters of integrated solar cells in safety glass so strong that a fully-grown adult can walk on them without causing dents. The cells enable the car to charge from the sun at a rate of 12km/hour. On a sunny day he reckons you can recover around 60-miles a day.
While he says solar is more of “a bonus top-up, than a main source of fuel", the car can additionally replenish energy from a normal 230-volt European domestic power source at a rate of 35km/hour. Providing around 400 kilometres of range on a typical overnight run.
High powered charging options can charge up to 570 km/hour. Under the WLTP cycle, Lightyear claims a range of 725km and a guaranteed range of at least 400km in winter at highway speeds with the heating on.
The long-range capabilities of Lightyear One are, as Lammers explains, delivered through a relentless focus on efficiency, “while range can be improved by the capacity or volume of batteries, this just adds weight. Our vehicle is the most lightweight in its class”
“With battery breakthroughs still some years off, we have looked at other areas of efficiency, of which, the drivetrain is perhaps the most important. Our solution comprises four independently driven motors inside each wheel.”
“The motors employ only a single moving part and offer a high power to weight ratio, they also minimise the opportunity for power-loss via any transmission or axle. This means, compared to other commercially available electric vehicles, Lightyear One can travel up to three times further on a single KWH of power.”
A further benefit from the power train is that the vehicle offers 4-wheel drive capabilities, which are further enhanced by flat ground clearance and low weight distribution.
Launched just two weeks ago, as a right hand drive model targeted at the European mainland market, the firm is now taking orders.
Lammers says “over 100 cars have been sold already, with customers able to pre-pay to jump the queue”
What does a typical customer look like? Lammers says they fall into three broad groups: “car collectors. Those that drive an EV already and want something more efficient and environmentally friendly. And those looking to buy an EV, who want to cross the barrier of range anxiety.”
It seems the customers must also have one other attribute: cash. With prices set at around €119k ($134k / £107k), the Solar One isn’t exactly cheap.
Is it desirable? Well in truth it’s hard to say until test driven, but the example I saw at the Goodwood Festival of Speed is certainly a futuristic-looking head turner. Designed by Lowie Vermeersch, a former Design Director at Pininfarina who, in 2010 was ranked the twelfth most influential car designer by Automobile Magazine, it is sleek and distinctive. Design cues echo the Citroen SM, Audi A7 and perhaps even slightly McLaren Speedtail from certain rear angles.
The founders, some who met Elon Musk while students, may well have also captured the odd element of Tesla in its features. All in all, it looks like the kind of car that might win the approval of Musk. If nothing else, I’m sure he would respect the attention to physics and bold new thinking.