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Lightyear wins race to market with start of solar EV production in Finland

Just six years after what began as a solar vehicle competition among students, Lightyear has reached a watershed moment in clean mobility. Today, the company officially kicked off the start of production for the Lightyear 0 solar EV at Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki, Finland, and we were fortunate enough to be the only US media outlet in attendance. Today not only proves that solar EVs are possible, but also scalable, kicking off an even more sustainable echelon of zero-emission mobility.

For those of you who are not yet aware, Lightyear began as a group of engineering students competing as Solar Team Eindhoven, capturing four world championships together. The team’s early success in solar mobility would fortify the roots that would eventually sprout into Lightyear – a startup determined to bring a commercial, street-legal version of a solar EV to the world.

In 2019, the Lightyear One made its official debut, touting tremendous 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, Lightyear’s flagship SEV has seen a name change with the launch of its production version, following well-documented performance and efficiency testing. After following the startup’s progress since 2017, we finally got the opportunity to drive the Lightyear 0 this past summer, and it did not disappoint. Neither did the technology within the solar EV itself, developed in-house by the Lightyear team – a group of individuals that work hard, have fun, and “just simply get it” when it comes to the future of clean mobility.

In 2021, Lightyear announced its solar EV would be assembled by Valmet Automotive in Finland – a contract manufacturer with over 50 years of experience building vehicles for nearly every legacy automaker at one point or another. Since 2009, Valmet has had the foresight to begin shifting its manufacturing to support electrification, and even built the short-lived Fisker Karma way back when.

In taking CATL on as a shareholder in 2017, Valmet Automotive has significantly bolstered its EV battery manufacturing while simultaneously supporting solar EV production for startups like Lightyear and most recently, Sono Motors.

I trekked from sunny Los Angeles to Helsinki by way of Paris, followed by a two-plus-hour car ride up to frigid Uusikaupunki to attend today’s opening ceremony, and was happy to do so (I got to try reindeer mousse for the first time, so there’s that).

Today not only marks the start of production for Lightyear, but delivers a proof of concept for scalable solar EV technology one would hope goes widespread as the most sustainable form of automotive travel to date.

Lightyear 0 begins production as a segue into the future

Lightyear cofounder and CEO Lex Hoefsloot said it best in front of a crowd of journalists, dignitaries, and employees gathered around a stage mere footsteps from the startup’s new dedicated assembly line:

This start of production moment is both a beginning and an end. The end of the chapter
we started back in 2016, and it’s the beginning of true solar mobility. It’s an achievement
in the automotive industry like never before. And while we may be the first, it’s my
sincere hope, and belief, that we won’t be the last.

In speaking with Hoefsloot this past summer in Spain versus today, following the start of Lightyear 0 production, a huge weight appears to have been lifted off his shoulders. In speaking with him, he shared a similar sentiment, explaining that the previous six years of telling everyone “please just trust me” are over, and the company he helped found now has a state-of-the-art assembly line that will soon crank out viable, deliverable solar EVs to do the talking for it. I asked him what today meant for him personally:

So there’s two momentous milestones today. One is proving that it’s possible, and second is proving that it’s scalable. It took so many people to get to this point. Thousands of people that stuck out their necks to get us to where we are today that we need to be grateful for. Because all of their friends said, “What the hell are you doing, guys? A solar car company?” Everyone that stuck with us to this point, that’s who I’m thinking about at a moment like this.

Teamwork and collaboration are a key pillars in the startup that evolved from a group solar project, but those founding principles stem beyond Lightyear itself. Hoefsloot made a point to thank several of the company’s collaborators beyond Valmet, including Bridgestone, MyWheels, and Koenigsegg, which is helping design future solar EVs, like the company’s model, currently donned the Lightyear 2.

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I pointed this out when I spoke to Hoefsloot in June, but his support for solar EVs extends well beyond those donning the Lightyear badge, but to the startup’s competitors as well:

I also want to recognize and welcome the great strides our competitors have taken. We are proud of the achievements of Aptera, Lucid, and Sono, who share our dedication to clean mobility. In fact, let me correct myself. We do not have competitors. Actually, we are all pioneers, striving for the same outcomes to have a positive, lasting impact on our planet.

I asked Hoefsloot why he specifically mentioned Lucid Motors along with fellow solar EV startups like Aptera and Sono Motors. He explained that he admires the strides Lucid is making in efficiency. The formula for successful solar cars is not just aerodynamics, but also efficiency. Lucid excels in both categories but still can’t hold a candle to Lightyear’s 0.175 drag coefficient – currently the most aerodynamic production vehicle ever made.

Lightyear 2 update

Lastly, I had to ask about the Lightyear 2, which is scheduled to arrive in 2025 in both the EU and US, at a targeted starting price of around $30,000 – a significantly lower MSRP compared to the €250,000 starting price for the 946 Lightyear 0’s that will be built now that production is officially underway.

According to Hoefsloot, Lightyear will offer some form of an update for its second model at CES in Las Vegas this January, followed by a full design reveal next summer. He went on:

I think people will be amazed actually, by what is possible in high volume, because of course, the question we get the most, for good reason is “how the hell guys, do you get it from 250K (euros) to 30K?” What people underestimate about Lightyear 0 is that we focused so much on picking the technologies that are fundamentally scalable. That’s also puzzling to people why we can do it, but we’re really confident we can get to that price point.

A bunch of us will be at CES this year and will for sure be in attendance to hear more news about the Lightyear 2. Until then, check out the production process of the Lightyear 0 here in Finland with Valmet.

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Scooter Doll is a writer, designer and tech enthusiast born in Chicago and based on the West Coast. When he’s not offering the latest tech how tos or insights, he’s probably watching Chicago sports.
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