For the last decade, the cofounders at Lightyear have been working to defy one single, formidable statement – a solar EV cannot be done. Although Lightyear has work to do before its newly rebranded Lightyear 0 solar EV begins production this year, its latest production intent prototype is quite close to becoming the real deal for the naysayers, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first people outside its creators to drive it.
Table of contents
Lightyear’s solar EV journey from One to 0
Although I wouldn’t climb aboard until years later, Electrek’s coverage of Lightyear dates back to 2017 when Solar Team Eindhoven – a group of engineering students and the precursor to Lightyear –announced it was launching a startup to bring a commercial, street-legal version of an EV equipped with solar technology.
In 2019, the Lightyear One solar EV made its official debut, touting 450 miles of range with the help of the sun. In 2020, we got our first up-close look at an early prototype of the Lightyear One outside CES in Las Vegas.
Since then, I have covered much of Lightyear’s progress toward a production-level solar EV – most recently, the company’s announcement that the Lightyear One had been rebranded as the Lightyear 0.
Mere weeks later, I was given an exclusive opportunity to travel to the desert area of Aire de Bardenas in Spain to experience the latest Lightyear 0 prototypes before the solar EV enters production.
Driving the Lightyear 0 solar EV
Upon entering the Lightyear 0, it’s evident that it’s a near-production prototype. The giant red emergency button in the center of the dash is a dead giveaway, but aside from that vital piece of hardware for test drives like the one we were on, the interior is only slightly rough around the edges. More on that below.
To begin, we will focus on the drive itself. The EV itself turns on as you approach it with the FOB, so no need for any push-to-start nonsense. Aside from the stylish but sustainable interior, you notice a driver’s side display showcasing battery life, speed, and solar energy being generated. There is also a mini version of the Lightyear 0 to show you if any doors are ajar.
After entering drive mode, my guide and Lightyear vehicle project manager, Patrick “Paddy” Creevey, and I were off. From the very first turn, I was surprised at how heavy and stiff the EV felt. Paddy was glad I noticed and assured me that the prototype still needed a lot of tuning before production begins.
I also initially noticed a lot of wind noise as we got up to about 70 km/h in the desert of Spain. As an extremely aerodynamic vehicle, this solar EV cuts through the air like butter – thanks to closed rim wheels that do not protrude from the sides – which also reduces energy consumption by 3.5%. My Lightyear 0 also had the removable rear wheel covers, further reducing consumption by an additional 1.9%.
The result is a drag coefficient rated at a Cd value below 0.19. While the Lightyear 0 has not been officially tested, that number could easily make it the most aerodynamic EV to date. This was most apparent when Paddy turned off the regenerative braking.
Cruising at 100 km/h, the regen kicked off, and we simply kept going. It felt like I was in a paper airplane as I watched the speedometer in front of me slowly but surely decrease one km/h at a time. When the regenerative braking was enabled, I enjoyed the one-pedal driving very much, but as I’ve said in the past, that’s my particular driving style.
The acceleration was quite adequate, especially since that feature is by no means a selling point in the minds of the Lightyear team. This solar EV screams ultimate efficiency inside and out, and they’d much rather sell consumers on that feature. For example, the Lightyear 0’s current motor is 97% efficient, and thanks to the decision to implement four motors in the SEV’s wheels, the team could ditch unnecessary components like a gearbox and driveshaft, further reducing weight.
Overall, this was a smooth ride. It’s definitely an EV, it’s definitely real, and it is most certainly stupid efficient.
As the first two prototypes pulled up, two initial thoughts came to mind – “Damn, that thing is long,” and “damn, that’s a small rear end.” Probably could have chosen better words there, but I’m talking about cars – focus. The Lightyear 0 solar EV is also quite low to the ground, all of which contributed to its teardrop shape and insane aero.
For this particular Lightyear model, any part of the body that is not solar cells or glass is carbon fiber. As you can see in the image above, there are two colors: Zenith, which is a gloss solid silver paint and the base color every Lightyear 0 arrives with, and Sand, which is a matte metallic gray and is actually a wrap.
Customers who are fortunate enough to afford a Lightyear 0 can choose either paint or wrap for their solar EV, offering a larger opportunity for exterior customizations. Furthermore, the aero rear-wheel covers are optional and can be added or removed.
Lightyear’s solar technology
The main star of the exterior (and really the entire EV) is the solar cell technology. The exterior of the Lightyear 0 houses 782 IBC monocrystalline silicon solar cells, split up into 28 different independent groups, totaling five square meters of Lightyear’s proprietary solar technology on one vehicle.
Solar cell and composite underneath, sleek glass on top, these cells can not only be curved (solar cells generally don’t like to be bent or wrinkled), but they are curved in two separate directions. This is technology Lightyear has been very candid about selling to other manufacturers through its solar roof side hustle.
Truthfully, not everyone is going to like the look of the Lightyear 0 EV, but there are plenty of people that are going to go nuts for it. You can’t please everyone, so why not please those who are interested to the fullest by offering max efficiency and free-range from the sun. Did I mention it’s aerodynamic?
Moving inward is the only place I noticed some need for polishing and fine-tuning in the Lightyear 0 (apart from the actual tuning of the EV of course). Some components in the center console and steering wheel were 3D printed but were merely placeholders for sleeker components that were either on order or had just arrived at Lightyear HQ for future versions.
The center tablet runs software designed in-house by Lightyear based upon the Android platform and already offers some cool features I’ve never seen before. Since it’s a solar EV, a scaled map of the solar cells can be displayed, showcasing how much sun each group is gathering in real time. The stronger the solar signal, the darker orange the group appears on the screen. If a bird were to target your shiny Lightyear 0, the solar EV can alert you to clean it off to maximize that sun-gathering technology.
Similar to the Audi e-tron, the side view cameras were lowered from the A-pillar present on previous Lightyear prototypes, down onto the front apron. The team explained that this removes the need for an elbow joint and naturally increases the aerodynamics of the vehicle yet again.
My biggest qualm with the interior components while driving was the rearview camera. I found the screen far too small to efficiently see what was behind me, especially at a quick glance from the road. Luckily, the Lightyear team has already recognized this problem, and the production version of the Lightyear 0 will feature a larger, wider screen for the driver to view.
Interior materials were modern and plush, giving a feeling of comfort and style throughout. Decent room in the back seat as well. The trunk truly impressed me as there is plenty of room for cargo, as long as the cargo isn’t too tall. With rear seats that fold down, you could probably fit a decent-sized surfboard in the back.
It could definitely sleep two people too, but I get the feeling that the customers willing to dish out 250,000 euros for this vehicle aren’t going to be too interested in camping in it. I would though! Either way, this vehicle is clearly close to being ready for SOP.
Interesting specs, plus the future of Lightyear 0 EV and beyond
Lightyear Cofounder and CEO Lex Hoefsloot shared that the Lightyear 0 EV garnered about 43 km of range during our first day of driving from the sun alone, and it was a cloudy day. For the four hours of driving we did as a group, about a third of the range came from the sky, allowing us to use just 20% of the vehicle’s battery.
As we’ve previously mentioned, the Lightyear 0 will cost you 250,000 euros and only 946 are being produced. During this trip, I learned that number was chosen because the distance of a Lightyear is 946 trillion kilometers. I got the chance to sit down with Lex on day one and discuss the Lightyear 0 as well as the Lightyear 2 solar EV and beyond.
While most startup CEOs might have mixed emotions about being compared to Tesla and Elon Musk (especially these days), Hoefsloot was quick to give credit to the American automaker for providing not only a proof of concept for scalable EVs but also a sales model to follow. Lightyear’s CEO is less than psyched about the extremely high price point of Lightyear’s flagship vehicle but sees the Lightyear 0 as similar to the original Roadster in proving that solar EVs are possible and they can be cool as hell.
Where Lightyear plans to veer from Tesla’s original strategy is with its second model, the Lightyear Two. Instead of coming out with a Model S and Model X, Lightyear is going straight to the everyday consumer model and is aiming to deliver a solar EV priced at 30,000 euro… a feat Tesla still hasn’t accomplished.
Lightyear is a company cofounded by a group of young men that, a decade later, has created a solar EV on the brink of proving the deniers wrong… and they all still remain young men. The company’s ethos and design processes scream efficiency and sustainability, and the Lightyear 0 appears very true to the brand.
I personally was impressed at how much of the technology present in the Lightyear 0 SEV the company has developed itself. Particularly the motors, inverters, and software. Starting with five employees and now up to 500, Lightyear appears, from where I was standing (and driving), to be poised to finally bring a solar EV into production, even if it is a limited run on the first go around.
Personally, I’m skeptical that the company will be able to hit that 30,000 euro price point on the Lightyear Two, especially if current supply chain issues continue beyond this year. That being said, Lightyear owns a lot of the tech its next solar EV will need, and having a contract manufacturer like Valmet in its corner will not only prove helpful but vital in order to scale.
Perhaps that 30k price can be the next target the Lightyear team puts on its dartboard at the office –just as soon as it hits its mark bringing a solar EV to fruition with the Lightyear 0.
The feeling around all the warm, friendly Lightyear employees this week was one of excitement and reserved pride. It’s been a journey so far, and they are so close to reaching a goal set years ago; they should be proud. For now, however, they’ll need to harness all the vitamin D they can and get the Lightyear 0 over the finish line.
Hopefully, then they can turn off their one-pedal driving and glide onto the next one.
FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.
Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.