1000 kilometers without a charging stop and a third of the energy virtually free: With solar cells on the roof and hood, the Lightyear Zero wants to solve some of the problems of electromobility. But the Dutch startup is charging a high price for one of the most efficient electric cars currently on the market.
It barely drives the first kilometer faster than walking pace, but it doesn't need any fuel or electricity from the battery for that. The Lightyear Zero gets the energy for its maiden voyage from the sun. Because the five meter long flounder from the Netherlands is the first series-ready solar car in the world.
Developed by five students from the University of Eindhoven, who won the Solar World Challenge in Australia less than ten years ago and only founded their own company in 2016, it wants nothing less than to turn electric mobility upside down - or at least to solve its biggest problems. "We are finally taking away the fear of range from drivers, making charging a minor matter and also reducing costs in the long term," says company founder Lex Hoefsloot. At least the latter is a bold statement with a proud starting price of almost 300,000 euros.
The crawl under the blazing sun in the Spanish sky is an impressive demonstration of the efficiency of the approximately five square meter solar cells on the hood and roof of the Lightyear Zero. But the Dutch themselves know that no state can be made with this alone. The 40 to 50 kilometers that can be taken from the sky in our latitudes per day are neither really sufficient, nor will anyone be satisfied with walking pace. That's why stepping on the accelerator pedal is enough for the Zero to pick up speed and roll as briskly and unobtrusively over the Spanish country roads as any conventional electric car.
The fact that the on-board computer has an impressive range of more than 500 kilometers despite the modest battery of just 60 kWh is due to the almost unrivaled efficiency of the electric debut. Because only undercut by the technology leader Mercedes EQXX, the Zero has a standard consumption of 10.5 kWh per 100 kilometers, which has never been achieved before in a production vehicle.
"If we then consider that most people drive significantly less than 100 kilometers a day, the battery power is sufficient for a week, in which up to 50 kilometers of solar power are added per day. So you can drive over 1000 kilometers until you actually have to reload from the network," calculates Chief Technology Officer Arjo van der Ham.
The Dutch have made every adjustment to achieve this impressive level of efficiency: With a minimal frontal area, cameras instead of mirrors, fully covered wheels and a sharp cut at the long rear, the Zero has a drag coefficient of just 0.19, beating the current world champion Mercedes EQS at just under 1.6 tons, it weighs less than many conventional small cars. And in order to reduce mechanical and electrical losses, the Dutch are installing wheel hub motors for the first time, instead of putting the electric motors on the axles as usual.
However, the occupants also have to make a few compromises: in contrast to the price and proportions, the performance is on the level of a small car. After all, the four wheel hub motors together deliver just 180 hp, the flask allows itself a proud ten seconds from 0 to 100 km/h, and at 160 km/h the propulsion is over. And the ambiance is unusually frugal.
The fact that the interior is vegan may still be in keeping with the times, there is plenty of space, and the trunk is actually quite unrivaled at 640 liters. But shimmering screen landscapes are just as in vain as the button for the seat air conditioning or the autopilot, because Lightyear is content with the bare minimum in terms of kilos and costs. Incidentally, this also applies to the charging technology. "Because with such an efficient car, the electricity flows for many kilometers in a few minutes, we were content with a charging capacity of 60 kW," says van der Ham.
And yet the Zero is as exclusive as it is expensive. Because with a circulation of 946 copies - by the way, these are the first three digits if you convert a light year into kilometers - it costs 297,500 euros more than any Tesla Model S, the Lucid Air or the Mercedes EQS. But in two or three years, the Dutch want to increase the number of items dramatically and lower the prices accordingly. Then they are planning a solar answer to cars like the VW ID.4 or the Renault Megane, which cost around 30,000 euros and are to be produced over 100,000 times a year.
And it's not just the quantities that Lightyear wants to use to reduce the cost of electromobility. The solar technology itself should also become a savings factor. For the manufacturer, because he can install smaller batteries if the car is constantly recharging. For the public, because fewer charging stations with a lower output are needed, and for the customer, because depending on the driving profile, they get up to half their energy for free - and on top of that they can save themselves the garage.
Corona or disrupted supply chains - even if Lightyear had to raise prices sharply on the way to series production, the Dutch have made an impressive development and kept their word in many respects: Their sun car is not only the first solar car with series approval, but one at that of the most efficient electric cars on the market and the only one that actually has what it takes to drive 1000 kilometers without charging. And at least in theory, the story with the price reduction could also work.
The only mistake was the name, says company founder Hoefsloot, and at the end of the test drive he reveals why the Lightyear One has now become the Lightyear Zero: "Polestar 1, AMG One, BMW One - we just had the impression that the number 1 is now a bit inflationary for such a unique car." And besides, Zero is somehow much more appropriate: "Because for us, the Lightyear marks the beginning of a new era: the zero hour of solar mobility."