Lightyear One - power and range from sunlight and light weight

The Lightyear One car has been engineered from a radically different perspective to conventional i.c. vehicle programmes, and considerably different to ‘conventional’ EV production, Simon Duval Smith reports

The Lightyear philosophy is quite radical and very different from the approach of an established OEm building an adapted i.c. platform EV, or even its idea of what an EV should be, following conventional vehicle design rules, as Co-founder and CEO Lex Hoefsloot says. “We chose not to follow convention but to exploit the laws of physics, to get the most out of every joule of energy. Lightyear One will get to a range of 725 km on the WLTP cycle. In extreme conditions (in winter, at highway speeds and with heating on) we guarantee at least 400 km.”

At the moment it is still a prototype, but prospective buyers can reserve one of 1,000 vehicles that are being built for release in 2021 – that privilege will cost you £3,600 (£4,660). If you want one of the first 100 cars, you’ll have to pay £107,000. The firm started in the Netherlands in 2016 and was created by Lex Hoefsloot with the express aim of ‘getting the most out of every ray of sunshine’. The car can be charged by plugging directly into regular outlets, but the roof and ‘bonnet’ are comprised of integrated solar cells encased in safety glass - so strong an adult can walk on them. These cells will charge at 1.25 KW, giving charging of 10-12 kilometres per hour, equating to around 8,000 kilometres of free driving per year, with the car harvesting the sun’s power in the Netherlands.

A solar legacy

The Lightyear team have a solid foundation in harnessing the sun’s rays for EV power; under the title Solar Team Eindhoven, they took part in the Darwin to Adelaide Solar Car Race Challenge in Australia, for several years, winning it several times. From this, Hoefsloot says the idea of a practical car was born: “About seven years ago we built the first solar powered four-seat passenger car and we won the challenge that year.”

The structure of the company is in tune with the open-minded and some might say, non-automotive thinking behind the vehicle. It is a prime example of the freedom that an EV platform gives designers - there is no reason why conventional automotive ‘architecture’ considerations should apply to an EV, let alone a solar-powered EV, as Hoefsloot says. “We started with a blank sheet of paper and an open mind. For example, by concentrating on efficiency and light weight, we can use batteries that are about half the size and weight of a conventional EV, and half the energy consumption of an EV in the same segment.” I ask Heofsloot to be specific about the battery pack. He says: “We have a battery pack that is two-thirds the size of that of a Tesla Model S and we can drive further than the Model S - up to 800 kilometres with good sunlight, and a minimum range of 400 kilometres without any solar top-up and with heating, air conditioning all being used and doing high-speed driving.”

In-hub motors - the unsprung weight debate answered?

The Lightyear uses in-hub motors, a technology application that has drawn a lot of criticism from engineering commentators about unsprung weight and its effects on handling, roadholding and steering. Hoefsloot says these concerns can be answered by intelligent ‘holistic’ design, “We designed the in-wheel motor application as an integral part of the suspension, wheel rim and tyre design and choice. We have got the unsprung weight down to just marginally more than what you might find on a conventional EV or i.c. car set-up.”

Expanding the range downwards

The Lightyear One, in its prototype and in its production form, is an expensive car, as Hoefsloot admits, but Lightyear are using it as a development platform to bring the cost of developing cheaper models down. “Once we have refined the technology, using the Lightyear One car, we can amortise some of the development cost of smaller and cheaper Lightyear vehicles.” Hoefsloot would not be drawn on the model range we might see from the company, or the timescale but there is little doubt that the Lightyear is one of the most ‘scalable’ vehicle concepts we have seen for a long time.

Cutting the reliance on infrastructure

Summing up the Lightyear’s future and the company energy ‘philosophy’, Hoefsloot says, “The beauty of the Lightyear concept, that of using solar power wherever and whenever you can, is that is does not rely on building more infrastructure: you can charge the car using its roof-mounted cells, charge it at home, where you may not even be on an electricity grid, using solar panels on your house or on your land. We feel it is a vehicle for the future - and this could mean a future when people live away from or off the grid, as well as saving energy for those connected to an energy grid.

"The main goal of the car is to fill in where electric cars fall short, research has shown that range and the lack of charging options are still the top concerns that people have when considering purchasing electric cars."

A customer’s perspective

Cas van Arendorf is one of the founders of the Kirkman Company, the forefather company behind Lightyear, some 18 years ago and since then he has worked on creating 6 further exciting startups in the energy space, with he calls an ecosystem called ‘Power by Meaning’. Van Arendorf is one of Lightyear’s ambassadors and will also be one of Lightyear's first customers - he has paid his deposit to be customer number 13 - and expects to plug in to charge the car as well as harvesting power from sunlight, as he says: "I think I will have to plug in as the total kilometres I will get on solar will only be about 8,000 per year in the Netherlands. Of course in a sunnier country like Italy, it is likely to be a lot more. I drive around 28,000 kilometres per year so I will definitely be charging at home as well as using solar power."

Arendorf is an EV evangelist; he already has a Tesla and is particularly attracted to the Lightyear as he considers it part of the next generation of EV. "For me it is the next generation and more specifically, it is a system change. If we think of how we first had fossil-fuel power, then charged electric power and now we can have solar power."

Arendorf plans to charge at his home due to his travel 'radius'. "I will charge at home and not use 'superchargers' or similar as the Netherlands is a fairly small country - I will never use a travel radius of more than 725 kilometres so I should never be stuck out on the road without power. If I should travel to Paris then maybe I would need an on the road charge but the solar element should make this unnecessary."