Details were scant when Lightyear first revealed plans to build a solar-powered electric car back in 2017, apart from a claimed 800 km range per charge. Last night the company took the wraps of the pre-production prototype, with 725 km (450 mi) of WLTP range, a high price tag and plans to deliver the vehicle in 2021.
As we've seen with the Sion family car, adding solar panels to the outside of an electric road car won't provide enough charge to fill up the batteries, at best you're looking at a modest range extension. Yet Lightyear is claiming that the PV cells on its upcoming One EV could generate enough energy to drive the car for up to 20,000 km (almost 12,500 mi) per year.
"On one hand, that will lead to an exceptional range of 725 km (WLTP) on a relatively small battery," said the company's CEO, Lex Hoefsloot. "On the other hand, it can charge directly from the Sun because its energy consumption is much lower, generating up to 20,000 km worth of energy per year. Moreover, all of the charging options out there become easier to use because you get a lot more range for the same amount of energy charged. So effectively, you charge a lot faster from any power outlet. You can charge up to 400 km per night from ordinary 230 V sockets. That's great for road trips because you don't need charging infrastructure."
It might be tempting to just dismiss such claims as flights of fancy, but the Lightyear team has energy efficiency form, being made up of members of Solar Team Eindhoven – winners of the Bridgestone World Solar challenge in 2013, 2015 and 2017. "With Lightyear One, we want to show that our technology enabled us to build one of the most sustainable cars on the market," revealed Hoefsloot.
The One has five square meters (53.8 sq ft) of solar cells housed beneath safety glass integrated into the roof and hood. The company reckons that should be sufficient for up to 12 km (7.5 mi) of range per hour – potentially almost 100 km of range while you're working your eight-hour shift and the car's soaking up sunlight in the company car park.
The vehicle can also be charged at home, or at public charging stations, and supports fast charging for over 500 km of range per hour when connected to a 60 kW charger.
The 5,057 x 1,898 x 1,426 mm (1,990 x 747 x 561 in) five-seater is reported to be made from high-tech materials for a balance of low weight and high passenger safety, and sports a body shape designed to "cut through the air just like a raindrop."
"We are still improving the outer shape of the car to reduce resistance," said Aero engineer Annemiek Koers. "I love this creative process. It is a constant challenge, always looking for things that will lower the air resistance even further so we get closer to our ultimate resistance goal. Right now the Cd is estimated to be below 0.20, well below the current market leaders, but we are always looking to create an even lower number."
There's an in-wheel motor at every corner, selected to maximize efficiency while allowing for a lighter build, and the EV will be able to go from standstill to 100 km/h (0-62 mph) in 10 seconds. As you might expect, there'll be a companion app available too, the car will rock Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and it will benefit from over-the-air updates.
Lightyear says that early adopters have already put money down for over a hundred One EVs, which carries a price tag of €149,000 (about US$170,000). "Since new technology has a high unit cost, we have to start in an exclusive market; Lightyear One is the first long-range solar car and has staggering specifications," Hoefsloot said.
Naturally, we'll have to wait until those performance claims are confirmed by real-world testing, but this certainly looks like a development worth keeping an eye on. Future plans include making later models available to ride-shares and fleets, and the company is eventually aiming to make sustainable cars more affordable than vehicles running on combustion engines.
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