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First Ride: Lightyear One solar car gets 450 miles on 60kWh, even when sun isn’t shining

After a long day of endless walking at CES, Electrek was invited out after hours for a closer look at the Lightyear One. We were met by the design and engineering team, who were very capable and forthright with their car and company. This was a welcome surprise since most companies send PR/sales teams to talk tech to journalists.

The Lightyear One is an an ultra-efficient EV concept, claiming a 450-mile range on just 60kWh of battery. If that sounds extreme it’s because the folks at Lightyear have made some extreme design decisions to get there.

Efficient Electric Car

First off, the Lightyear One body is designed for ultra aerodynamics. Less than .2 drag coefficient, to be precise. Normally, the pursuit of aero drives a car’s design into aesthetic extremes that average people wouldn’t venture into. However, the Lightyear One looks surprisingly normal and sporty. The vehicle is made of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, and the interior is a serene and simple cabin. Also with the interior, there’s a lack of infotainment or other features that create small draws on the battery.

Did I mention the solar panels? The long and bowing roof, trunk, and hood are all layered in solar panels.  Over 1kW to be not precise. This makes the Nissan Leaf solar panel look like it came from a Casio calculator.

Also included on the Lightyear One are 4 independent motors, one in each wheel. With 4 hub motors, The Lightyear keeps its center of gravity low and can use 4 wheel drive stability and turning control with surprising accuracy. That amount of unsprung weight is countered by fairly high air volume in the tires. Does it do tank turns like Rivian? Our Rivian hosts all laughed and said “maybe!”.

While on the subject, the wheels look quite opaque, offing more aerodynamics, and the rear wheels are covered by a half fairing. To top it off, rearview mirrors are replaced with small cameras and screens, located in their natural positions. These should be legal in the US in coming years but are already legal in Europe as we’ve seen on Audi’s e-trons.

Alright, all of that equipment, but what does it all mean? The designers were happy to remind us; a car that moves through the air with less effort is better in almost every aspect. Better range, faster speed, lighter weight, easier to steer, requires less braking power, longer battery lifespan, and truly capitalizing on the battery size.

The One isn’t designed to be a powerhouse but meant for long, easy cruising at a low cost. Speaking of low cost, the Lightyear is priced around $165,000. It will take a lot of solar miles to recoup that cost.

Road Less Traveled

Let me know if this sounds familiar: Lightyear is first starting with a high-dollar, low-volume car to help them ramp production into a more mass-market vehicle yet to be developed. Operating on a niche market at the beginning will help them pivot on forgiving early adopters while they learn and make mistakes from their first product. They expect to make hundreds to thousands of this car.

We’re already hearing reports of a $50,000 version in development but Lightyear didn’t want to comment on future vehicles.

Electrek’s Take

That 450-mile range would be amazing, not just for long trips, but also day to day use at a low operating cost. If you live in a sunny area and don’t drive a lot, you could replenish your car on the solar panels’ 20+ miles/day alone. Even without solar you are getting 7.5 miles/kWh – incredible efficiency.

They have made a very unique vehicle (and unique promises), but one aspect of the vehicle I find attractive is the simple and peaceful design of the interior. Personally, I enjoy a nice peaceful drive without flashy screens and distractions. I’m glad they opted out of a large screen. (*cough *cough Byton *cough *cough). I’m sure this ‘serenity’ is also to save battery on and production cost, but I like it for my own reasons.

Cabin room was copious, even with 4 grown men in the car. I’ve never been in a car built by the Dutch, and my whole life I believed headroom was for people who were under 5’9″ (1.75 meters). All this extra space gave me the comfortable feeling of the old land yachts my grandmother drove. I can’t say the same for my Nissan Leaf at home. I really like the concept of this car in every way; the efficiency, the simplicity, the luxuriant space, and clean look to the exterior. The long sweeping back made for storage that could probably hold most bikes, wheels on. Ah, the Dutch.

Slim Car, Slim Market

As it stands, I think the Lightyear One is aiming for a small market. Many of the most loyal ultra-efficient vehicle proponents are DIY scientists, or “pencil-outers”, neither of which stand ready to drop 165,000 bones on a new car, from a new company. Following Tesla’s lead on scale and distribution is wise indeed. However, Tesla had another important goal at this stage. The 1st Generation Tesla Roadster made EVs exciting, compelling, and fun to drive. I agree that efficiency and serenity are worthy buying motives, but I feel like these goals are in conflict with “bank anxiety.” Getting a second mortgage to drive in a peaceful car doesn’t add up, at least in my social class.

To be clear: I want this car to succeed. I want this company to find enough buyers to leap into the mass market model as soon as possible. I feel like the world could use more peace and quiet, and the morning commute would be a great place to start.

Will this company defy the odds and deliver the most efficient EV on earth? Will they make it to mass market? Will they reach their goal of recording one lightyear of travel on solar power? Or, will they wind up among the EV Graveyard the likes of the CODA, the Aptera, or the Corbin Sparrow?

Stay tuned to Electrek to find out!

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