“This is a life-size test”: The message from the people of Lightyear has the merit of being honest, as we prepare to take the wheel of one of the pre-production prototypes of this strange ship from the Netherlands. A solar car? Not quite.
The Lightyear 0 is above all an electric car equipped with a small 60 kWh battery, supplemented by 5 square meters of solar panels which cover the maximum surface of this 5.08 m long car. The hood, the roof and the tailgate are therefore huge sensors ready to absorb the slightest precious ray to regain some current in the batteries, generously offered by Mother Nature.
Its generosity has limits, however, because, in absolutely ideal sunshine conditions, Lightyear announces the possibility of regaining 11,000 kilometers per year, or 70 km per day, i.e. 7 months of daily trips of 35 km without recharging, or 2 months under less favorable conditions as in the country of origin of the car.
More specifically, the on-board solar system can store a maximum power of 1 kWh, which amounted to a maximum of 0.7 kWh during our test under the veiled Spanish sun. Enough to participate in the ultra-controlled consumption of this car designed entirely for energy savings.
Structure in recycled carbon to reach a mass of just 1,575 kilos, ultra-low aerodynamic coefficient of 0.19, engines optimized to the maximum, this is enough to allow official consumption barely exceeding 10 kWh/100 km at a stabilized speed of 110 km/h, allowing a range of 560 kilometers, or 625 km in the combined cycle according to the WLTP standard.
Thus, over about twenty kilometers at normal speed on the road and crossing villages, in quiet driving (this is a development prototype!), we were able to observe a consumption of 12.8 kWh/100 km, which is still excellent if you consider that it is a car with the dimensions of a comfortable limousine. Comfort, precisely, is the priority in the development of this model, far from any desire for performance.
No question of being glued to the seat during acceleration with a 0 to 100 km/h in 10 s, the performance here is in efficiency. Visually, the 0 is also somewhat reminiscent of the radicalism of models dedicated to ultra-low consumption in their time, such as the Honda Insight or the VW XL1 which aimed for a consumption of 1 l/100 km. There are also commonalities with the recent concept car Mercedes EQXX, whose power consumption is also close.
Almost all the technical elements of the car are developed by the Dutch start-up, starting with the engines installed in the 4 wheels (37 kg each) with a cumulative power of about 170 hp, which reach up to 96 % efficiency at their maximum torque level. This is enormous, amounting to some 1,600 Nm, or even 1,725 Nm for the production model. Moreover, many aspects of this prototype frankly far from being perfectly developed are called to change, explains Patrick Creevey, engineer in charge of development and former Jaguar. The power of regeneration, the heaviness of the steering, the quality of the electronic mirrors: everything is still called upon to evolve…
Driving is pleasant if you put yourself in a state of mind focused on efficiency above all, and you appreciate the absence of wind noise, the general silence on board around 100 km/h and the comfort of the excellent seats. soft from Recaro. The opportunity to detail the cabin which remains very close to a working concept at this stage, dotted with ecological materials such as microfiber suede or palm wood. Some parts still seem to be made in 3D printing and the infotainment system is for the moment more focused on info than the rest, but there too, work in progress…
The rear seats with three individual seats placed very low are strange, with good leg length but feet too high to offer a very comfortable position. The absence of a tailgate window gives an unusual feeling of confinement. Fortunately, the very long trunk offers a large useful volume of 640 litres, enough to carry the luggage of solar adventurers.
Still, if the efficiency of the whole is impressive, with 43 kilometers of autonomy gained throughout the day of our test under a veiled sky, this car promised to go into production in a few months seems far from being finalized, and the production model will lack a few “details” that are nevertheless useful for driving smoothly and economically, such as semi-autonomous driving aids.
“After six years of testing, iterations, design, redesign and countless hurdles, Lightyear 0 is proof that the impossible is indeed possible.,” says Lex Hoefsloot, the young co-founder and CEO of Lightyear. up focusing on innovation.
This is a thought-provoking project, in every sense of the word. Thus one can only be seduced by the dream of benefiting from free and unlimited energy, and the beauty of this project. But one can also wonder what viability can there be for such an expensive car (250,000 €!) and what will be the 946 (the announced maximum production figure) crazy rich who will be ready to invest such a sum in a car light years away (lightyear in English, therefore…) from the premium dream models or hypercars in this price zone.
The industrialization of a car is a huge challenge but, with 550 people of 38 nationalities working on the project and a partnership with Valmet Automotive in Finland, experienced and accustomed to small series for large manufacturers for production starting during this year , we can only take the project seriously.
But the real question concerns a more distant future. The brand aims to build a Lightyear 2 by 2025 to democratize its concept and move to mass production and a selling price from… €30,000!
This is what the German Sono Motors is trying to achieve with a rather basic model of solar MPV. We then enter a completely different dimension, that of a real car manufacturer, with the huge investments and approval constraints that go hand in hand. By then, solar cells could have gained in efficiency, from 21% to 28%, so let’s hope this project succeeds so that one day you can reduce your charging bill on an everyday car.
You just have to remember to park it outside.