Yes, driving on sunshine is possible
When we heard that Lightyear, a Dutch EV startup would be bringing their concept Lightyear One solar-powered EV to CES, we definitely put it on our list of must-sees for the show. However, we were able to do even better than we expected and scored a pre-CES look at the vehicle is a parking lot behind the Las Vegas strip before Lightyear brought the vehicle inside the convention center.
The Lightyear One is all about efficiency, which is obvious from its wind-cheating, long-streamlined roof, stretched to reduce drag as much as possible. Company representatives told me the vehicle has a drag coefficient below .20. That's good enough to make it the most aerodynamic 5-seater there is, if and when makes it to production.
The company representatives at CES explained to me that their plan is to begin low-volume production next year at their facility in Helmond, Netherlands, with customer deliveries in 2021. They said that they would be limited to making a little over a thousand copies, but the plan would be to eventually secure a proper manufacturing plant, perhaps with the help of partners, to make the vehicle in higher volume in the future.
The Lightyear One has five square meters of solar panel surface and can generate roughly 5-6 kWh of electricity per day under the right conditions. Because the vehicle is lightweight and extremely efficient, that's good enough to propel the car about 45 miles. Lightyear says the consumption will be as low as 135 Wh/mile which converts to about 7.5 miles per kWh. That is off-the-charts good for any EV if they can indeed deliver it.
Because the car is so efficient, they can use a smaller battery than competitors and still deliver long-range driving. Lightyear One will have a 60 kWh battery pack which will offer an estimated 450 miles of range based on the WLTP range rating system. That should translate to about 400 miles on the EPA range scale. The vehicle isn't going to be a high-performance dragster, with a 0 to 60 time of about 10 seconds, but that's not the point - efficiency is.
The Lightyear One has four lightweight in-wheel motors for propulsion, and the battery can DC Fast charge at a rate of 60 kW and up to 22 kW on AC. However, because of its ability to recharge from sunlight, Lightyear representatives believe the average customer may only need to charge the car once or twice per month that's because Lightyear claims the solar panels can add up to 12,400 miles of range per year.
Because the Lightyear One has a long, low-slung and sloping roofline, the vehicle doesn't have a rear outward view for the driver. Instead, it uses a rearview video screen instead of the mirror. There are other cars that offer rearview mirror-cameras, like the Chevy Bolt EV, but on those, you can toggle from mirror to video screen. That's not possible on the Lightyear One because there's no outward vision, you have to rely on the video camera.
Since Lightyear is using expensive materials like carbon fiber and aluminum, combined with the fact that the vehicle will initially be made in very low volume, it's not exactly inexpensive. It costs about $170,000 US, (*correction: the Lightyear One costs €149.000, which is actually $165.398, not $170,000) and interested buyers can reserve on on Lightyear's website with a $4,500 refundable deposit.
Personally I love lightweight, highly efficient cars. That's part of the reason I loved the original BMW i3 concept when it was first introduced. I'm also a big fan of solar electric and have had a 9 kW solar array on the roof of my home since 2010 and I'm waiting for the day my EV has solar panels on the roof. The Lightyear One probably won't be in my garage anytime soon, but I love that this company is pushing to incorporate solar onto EVs, helping to pave the way for more of the same.
In the video above, our friends over at E For Electric had the chance to take a look at Lightyear One as we did, so we added their video clip for here as well to give you another opinion. We'll be keeping an eye on Lightyear, and reporting on their progress. We want to know what you think about the EV+PV combo. Great idea or not? Let us know in the comment section below.