This week, EV startup Lightyear unveiled its first solar-powered automobile in the Netherlands, called Lightyear 0. Production-ready, Lightyear claims its vehicle can travel 388 miles using solar power alone for 44 miles.
A team of engineers spent six years developing the Lightyear 0. Still, it's not too far removed from the sleek sedan prototype shown off by the company in 2019.
This is a bit more realistic: 388 versus 450 miles, but the shape and design of the vehicle remain largely unchanged.
The presence of solar panels, a rare feature in the automotive world, makes this vehicle special. Lightyear 0 has five square meters (53.8 square feet) of double-curve solar arrays, which enable the vehicle to recharge while driving or sitting in the sun. An individual who commutes under 35km (21 miles) a day could possibly drive for months without recharging the vehicle.
In the Netherlands, it could be two months, but in Spain and Portugal, it can be seven months, Lightyear says.
The Lightyear 0 uses a 60-kWh battery pack with four electric motors that deliver 174 horsepower and 1,269 lb-ft of torque. The car goes from zero to 62 mph in ten seconds and reaches a top speed of 100 mph - which is a lot less than the fastest electric vehicles on the market. But speed isn't the point when you're driving a solar-powered car, is it?
The interior is clean, minimalist and sustainable. Materials including microfiber upholstery, plant-based leather, fabrics made from recycled bottles, rattan palm wood trim, and insulated particle foam all come from sources that are 100 percent vegan.
The 10.1-inch touchscreen runs Android Automotive, which can also be found in a bunch of Volvo and Polestar vehicles. All the other high-tech stuff like phone-as-key, over-the-air updates, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay are included.
Solar cells power electric vehicles. The amount of solar energy captured by the best cells is very different from that needed to propel a two-ton vehicle at high speeds. But Lightyear is further ahead than many other companies.
Here's the specs! And the production schedule! It has partnered with Finnish contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive. The progress is not insignificant.
It is not a guarantee that Lightyear will make it to the finish line. Many EV startups have descended into oblivion despite their bold intentions for the future. Lightyear is not the only automaker striving for a revolutionary new form factor. Making cars is hard work.
Taking cues from the sun isn't unique to Lightyear. The company Aptera, which crashed in the wake of the Great Recession, has recently been revived and is still operating.
Solar-powered electric cars are also being developed by Sono Motors. 117 solar cells make up Mercedes-Benz's Vision EQXX concept. With Toyota's BZ4X electric SUV, a solar roof is available as an option.
Team Solar was founded in 2016 by engineers who participated in the World Solar Challenge, an annual race in Australia held to advance solar-powered cars.
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