Lightyear One: Dutch solar-electric car prototype revealed

450-mile range targeted as solar-electric Lightyear One achieves record for aerodynamics

Lightyear One testing

The Lightyear One – a solar-electric car being developed by a Dutch start-up – has set a record for low-drag aerodynamics, the firm has claimed.

Lightyear says it recorded a drag coefficient of less than 0.20Cd, giving the One "a newly established record in aerodynamics". The company will reveal the exact figure when the car's development programme has finished, but it believes the car will be "the most aerodynamic car available on the market" when it goes on sale.

Efficient aerodynamics are key to maximizing range, with Lightyear targeting a range of 450 miles for the One. For comparison, the Kia e-Niro achieves its 282-mile range with a drag coefficient of 0.29Cd. The company has applied a philosophy of 'ultra-efficiency' in designing the car, with designers working to make it as light as possible in order to extract extra range from a relatively small battery.

While the One is primarily charged by plugging in like any other electric model, it also incorporates roof-mounted solar panels in order to boost range and cut down on the amount of stationary plug-in charging required.

Lightyear estimates the One would only need to be plugged in 25 times a year if covering 12,000 miles per year in the UK, compared to 54 times a year for a Tesla Model S P100D.

According to Lightyear co-founder and CEO Lex Hoefsloot, when solar charging is unavailable due to poor weather, the One's efficiency means it can effectively add more range during a set amount of charging time than many other electric cars. "You can charge up to 400km [just under 250 miles] per night from an ordinary 230V socket," he said.

In typical Dutch weather, the One is expected to be able to drive for around 5,000 to 6,000 miles over the course of a year using energy from the sun. Its battery gives it a range of nearly 450 miles on a full charge, according to the WLTP test cycle.

A calculator on the company's website lets you enter your location and find out how much of your annual driving could be done using power from the sun. For a driver in London doing around 12,000 miles a year, it estimates that 41% of the annual mileage could be completed on solar charging.

Late in 2018, Lightyear announced a partnership with Leaseplan to make its car available for both lease and purchase when it launches in 2020. The company has also opened a production facility in Helmond in the Netherlands.

A 'Pioneer Edition' of the large five-seater hatchback will go on sale on the Dutch market in 2020, ahead of a 'broad launch' happening in 2021. The company claims to have taken orders for 100 cars already (those being delivered in 2020), while another 500 (for 2021 delivery) are available to reserve for a fee of €119,000 (about £106,000).

The full price of the car will be €149,000 (about £133,000). Hoefsloot says the high cost of the technology is the reason for the One's high price, but that future Lightyear models are expected to be cheaper.

"The next models we plan to develop will have a significantly lower purchase price," he said. "In addition, future models will be provided to autonomous and shared car fleets, so the purchase price can be divided amongst a large group of users. Combined with the low operating costs of the vehicle, we aim to provide premium mobility for a low price per kilometre."

Lightyear was founded by former competitors in the World Solar Challenge – an engineering competition focused on building solar-powered vehicles. The company currently employs 100 people, including former Tesla, Ferrari and Jaguar employees.

'Solar roof' charging technology has been offered on the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius Plug-In and is also being developed by Hyundai and Kia. It's possible to charge an electric car from domestic solar panels as well.