Earlier this month, we missed an interesting announcement by Lightyear, a company building solar cars. But luckily, we can still find footage of the announcement on YouTube, so anybody who missed it can still see the event. Plus, there’s now a video out with a test drive of the vehicle, so we can all get an even better look at the vehicle!
The Lightyear 0 Reveal
Like many EVs, the Lightyear 0 has its roots in solar car racing. Competitions where cars creep along the countryside have been a staple of engineering education for a long time, with vehicles like the GM Impact, which led to the EV1, coming out of the aftermath. So, it’s no surprise that such racing got a mention at the reveal. But, it’s a lot more challenging to build a solar-powered car that normal people who don’t want to drive an average of 10-15 miles per hour want to drive.
Hey, we can’t all be Wayne Szalinski and tell our bosses that we’re late because an unexpected cloud came through and killed our cars (and why didn’t he use the shrink ray to make smaller batteries?).
So, like Aptera, Lightyear definitely had an engineering challenge. The top of a car can only make so much energy, but Lightyear thought it was worth it because EVs typically add some complexity to our lives and make the infrastructure challenging. By taking the heat off of the grid and our home’s power supply, it could end up being a great thing, especially when we’re dealing with climate change and the rollout of EV charging and EVs is still going too slow to get us there by 2040.
But, how much solar driving can someone really do with this production design of the Lightyear 0? Is it enough to keep EVs simple for both drivers and for the grid?
To get the answer, Lightyear had to take us back to the 2013 World Solar Challenge in Australia. At that time, solar cars were starting to show some of their features could even be better than gas-powered cars. They didn’t have to stop (even if speeds weren’t great) while gas cars had to stop for gas. They developed a concept car in 2016 to show that solar driving was possible, but only if they could keep increasing efficiency. Today, we get to see what the numbers are.
On a 60 kWh battery charge, the validation prototype was able to go 710 km (441 miles). This is almost 200 miles more than the Chevy Bolt EV goes, and on slightly less battery. So, clearly they had come up with enough efficiency to help make up for the limitations of vehicle-mounted solar power. But, that was a prototype 18 months ago. The final car is supposed to get around 300 miles per day, maximum, using a combination of Level 1 (110v) charging and the car’s solar panels.
Now, they’re at a final design and a vehicle with even better efficiency is headed to production.
Getting to final mass production is something the company plans to take in steps. They’re starting with a lower volume vehicle that will get them started, kind of like Tesla did. This not only gets cars in some customer hands to get the word out more, but it also helps build the company’s foundation and prepare it for the next phase, where everyone can get a solar car.
The car itself looks a lot like other Lightyear designs we’ve seen before (duh), but as is usual for final designs, it does look a lot more refined and ready for production of some kind. It’s also a road legal car that ended up hitting the road later in the month (we’ll get to that in a minute).
When Lightyear 0 cars get to driveways, they’ll have 5 square meters of solar cells. They give a number of up to 70 km of driving range per day added by the cells. That’s 43 miles in American, and that’s pretty close to what Aptera is promising, so it’s not a number that’s completely outside of other industry estimates. Just like Aptera, they’re advertising it as a car that almost-never needs to charge.
More will be familiar to Aptera fans. To get the efficiency numbers they’re claiming, they had to do what Aptera did, which is use hub motors to reduce losses in the drivetrain. They also made the car very sleek (.19 CD), and it gets 560 km of highway range at 110 km/h (almost 350 miles at 68 mph). That number doesn’t sound super impressive until you consider this happens on a small pack. Heating and cooling is also optimized, using the environment’s energy as much as possible. Weight is only 1175 kilos, or about 2500 pounds, so that’s a huge help for efficiency, too.
They showed off a roomy interior made of recycled materials, but didn’t tell us much more.
The first delivery is supposed to happen before the end of 2022.
But How Does It Drive?
Since the reveal, Lightyear let the Fully Charged Show drive the first Lightyear 0.
They took the car for a drive in Spain, which is a great place to get energy from the sun in Europe.
It started in an area that seemed to be set up for the press and perhaps customers to check out later, so we’re going to get more people’s takes on the cars. But, it seemed that Fully Charged liked it, and not only because it’s a break from overdone, inefficient electric SUVs. It’s a $250,000 car, but Lightyear isn’t always going to have such high prices. The goal is to later offer a car more like the Aptera, with a sub-$30k price (with one more wheel and three more seats to boot).
Fully Charged says the vehicle gives 6 miles per kWh, which isn’t what Aptera promises to achieve, but is quite a bit more efficient than the average EV. But that’s without any solar power. When driving, you can do even better and see exactly what’s coming from the car and what’s coming from the sun.
The car doesn’t appear to be a slouch. They did manage to go fast enough to get pulled over by Spanish police. I won’t recap the whole video, but anyone who’s driven an unusual car will tell you that police might just pull you over to get a closer look.
Either way, it seems to be a very decent vehicle that should be a lot more compelling once it gets to mass production at affordable prices later.
Featured image by Lightyear.