Lightyear, a Dutch startup developing a long-range hybrid solar-powered car, today announced that it has raised €81 million ($81 million) as it prepares to begin production of its first vehicle in the coming months.
While recent history is littered with examples of prototype solar-powered vehicles, the burgeoning electric car movement has so far been mostly limited to automobiles that need to be plugged into the grid to charge, or hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) that self-charge while driving. A number of companies are pushing to make solar-powered cars a mass-market reality, however, such as Germany's Sono Motors, which recently revealed the final production design of its inaugural solar-electric vehicle, scheduled to launch some time in 2023, and Lightyear, a six-year-old startup that debuted its prototype back in 2019, which had previously raised more than $100 million in funding.
Introducing solar-charging to the electric vehicle fray essentially solves two problems in one. Drivers don't have to worry so much about where the nearest charging station is, as the car can top itself up while moving or when parked. And cars can travel farther without having to plug in, with Lightyear promising a range of more than 600 miles on a single full charge. This is, of course, hugely dependent on individual driving habits, as well as the time of year, given that sunlight is pivotal. But someone who only drives, say, 20 miles a day may be able to go a whole summer without plugging their car in to the grid, relying entirely on the charge it gets from the sun each day.
In perfect, optimal conditions, Lightyear said that the vehicle can potentially power itself for up to 40 miles each day, in addition to whatever power it garners from being plugged into the grid.
Lightyear CEO Lex Hoefsloot debuts the company's first solar car on June 9, 2022. Image Credits: Lightyear
Lightyear is scheduled to begin production of its Lightyear 0 (formerly called Lightyear One) car this coming fall, costing prospective buyers a cool €250,000. So far, the company has pre-sold 150 of these vehicles, and it has capacity to build nearly 1,000 -- an indication that the initial product is more a show of technology than anything else.
"Because Lightyear 0 is intended as a technology demonstrator, we will produce it in limited quantities and this first car will only be delivered to countries within the European Union, as well as Norway and Switzerland," Lightyear's head of PR and communication Rachel Richardson told TechCrunch.
In tandem, however, Lightyear is also working on the follow-up, the Lightyear 2, which is its full mass-market model that weighs in at a more affordable €30,000 -- it's expected to hit production in 2025 and will be available in the U.S., U.K. and Asia, among other markets. So while we're inching closer toward a world where solar-powered vehicles are a reality -- at least part of the time -- we're perhaps still a few years away from seeing this reality on public thoroughfares around the globe.
"The consumer will only adopt it once it’s accessible to them -- financially and geographically," Richardson added. "The industry needs to be certain of the viability of the technology to produce it at scale. This is our aim with Lightyear 0 -- to show that clean mobility is a reality and it is ready, it is not a thing of the future. The sooner this technology is adopted, the higher the production volumes, which allows for lower prices for the consumer."
Lightyear's latest cash injection includes capital from a public consortium of backers that includes Invest-NL, an investment company set up by the Dutch Ministry of Finance in 2020, and private funds from the likes of SHV and Dela.
"In the current market environment, our technology has incredible potential for positive societal influence, so I see investments of this caliber as a testament to Lightyear’s product vision," Lightyear CEO and co-founder Lex Hoefsloot said in a statement. "[Lightyear] remains on track to deliver the world’s first solar car and work towards a more sustainable future."