The idea of putting solar panels on electric cars seemed like an exercise in lily-gilding when it first came up a few years ago, but the field is growing at a rapid clip and the idea is catching on. In the latest development, the vehicle leasing firm Arval has just put in an order for 10,000 solar electric cars from the Dutch automaker Lightyear. The plot thickens when you consider that Arval is fully owned by BNP Paribas Group, a leading EU and international bank.
Lightyear Dreams Of Solar Electric Cars
Solar electric cars actually make quite a bit of sense. After all, many drivers leave their cars outdoors for hours at a time in sun-filled parking lots. That provides an opportunity for seamless, hassle-free charging, and drivers get the added convenience of delaying their next visit to a charging station.
The sticky wicket is maximizing the gain in energy storage to make a significant difference in the range of the vehicle. Lightyear tackles that challenge with a ground-up strategy (see our full coverage here) that integrates aerodynamic styling with its own patented PV technology for the roof and hood.
“At Lightyear, we’ve spent years developing solar roofs that are explicitly designed for our car’s graceful, aerodynamic shape,” the company explains. “We’ve innovated solar panel technology to its full potential, designing and manufacturing our own patented, double curved solar panels in our dedicated factory in Venray, the Netherlands.”
The Dream Becomes Reality: Lightyear 0
Lightyear’s first solar electric cars went into production last December under the Lightyear 0 label, with convenience front and center.
The listed range for Lightyear 0 is a hefty 625 kilometers (388 miles) of range under the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure. If charging overnight using a simple household plug is your vibe, Lightyear calculates that you can get a respectable 300 kilometers of range by the time you wake up. Parking in the sun for two hours adds up to another 70 kilometers (about 43 miles).
Forty-three miles is more than enough for most drivers’ daily errands, commutes and pleasure trips. The daily average for drivers in the US has been more or less within that range. The upshot is that you would not need to visit a charging station for weeks if not months on end, even under cloudy conditions as Lightyear is happy to point out.
Lightyear 2 Is Here
Lightyear 0 was just the beginning. Lightyear has now skipped right up to Lightyear 2, which it is billing as its accessible, mass-market model with a bumped-up range of 800 kilometers including solar charging.
“Lightyear 2 promises to address the consumers’ need for convenient clean mobility solutions, with a solar roof and hood enabling the car to double its range to more than 800 km per charge and overall three times less charging than a conventional electric vehicle, all of this at a price point of below €40,000,” the company stated.
Lightyear credits its relationship with Arval for enabling it to share the solar electric car love far and wide. The new order of 10,000 units brings Arval’s total order to 21,000.
As a well known vehicle leasing company, Arval lends its solid brand reputation to the EV experience. It can provide hesitant drivers with reassurance and reliability, encouraging them to test the road-worthiness of solar electric cars for themselves.
If you’re ready to jump in and get one for yourself, the waitlist opened up last week. Don’t be shy. Lightyear is billing this version of its solar electric car as the “accessible mass market model.”
Arval Has Big Plans For Electric Cars
The hookup with Arval is a big deal because, like its parent company BNP Paribas, Arval has a wide reach.
Arval Chairman and CEO Alain van Groenendael enthused over the new order, stating that “Lightyear’s technology is proven, affordable, and environmentally friendly, making a great addition to our fleet.”
“Our ambition is to lease 700,000 electrified vehicles as part of our global fleet by 2025, and we look forward to welcoming 10,000 Lightyear 2 cars, that help us to reach that goal and more importantly, further support our customers with an optimal solution that answers their energy transition needs and the infrastructure challenge in Europe,” he elaborated.
Solar Electric Cars To Rule The World
Of course, no conversation about solar electric cars would be complete without a mention of Republican office holders in the US, who have collectively eschewed the idea of running a modern democracy in favor of legislative side hustles. That includes trying to discourage financial firms from investing in renewable energy and other decarbonization equipment.
The operative word is “trying.” The electric vehicle revolution took a while to gather steam, but now the floodgates are open and big fleet owners are eager to get their hands on zero emission technology. Arval is a case in point.
“As part of the Commercial, Personal Banking & Services division within BNP Paribas Group, we benefit from a worldwide network, which has played a key role in our international growth. Our 7,500 employees operate in 30 countries, and we leased 1,500,000 vehicles in end of June 2022,” Arval reminds everybody.
That’s just the lead-in. Here’s the money quote:
“We also actively support and advise our customers in accelerating the energy transition, empowering them to be more sustainable. Our strategy is to rethink the mobility mix by balancing vehicle leasing with alternative forms of mobility such as car sharing, carpooling, bikes and electric scooters.”
They also have friends. Arval points out that it is a founding member of the Element-Arval Global Alliance, which is describes as “the longest standing strategic alliance in the fleet management industry and the worldwide leader with more than 3 million vehicles in 53 countries.”
There are some open questions in the field of solar electric cars, end-of-life materials recovery being one example. Still, photovoltaic technology is constantly evolving. More automakers and accessory manufacturers are becoming interested in car-worthy solar cells, and that can help create pressure on the R&D end for improvements in durability, weight, cost, and cradle-to-grave lifecycle.
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Photo: Solar electric car courtesy of Lightyear.
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