You can keep your measly normal electric cars, Elon Musk the real future of automotive power will be fully powered by the sun.
That’s the vision a new Dutch auto startup, Lightyear, hopes the world is ready to embrace with a fully solar-powered, four-wheel-drive luxury sedan. Lightyear is just the latest challenger to Tesla’s top spot in the green automotive space, but its claims about the potentially groundbreaking tech powered the car are bolder and more suspect than most.
The startup unveiled its Lightyear One concept earlier this week, touting a battery that can constantly replenish its power using the sun and travel a range of up to 800 km (almost 500 miles) when fully juiced. That’s just the start: The company claims that in the right sunny environment (say, Hawaii), the One could potentially drive for months at a time between charges.
That would have big ramifications about electric vehicles; concerns about electric cars being restricted to regions with reliable charging networks would become moot with this type of tech. But as exciting as a solar-powered car is, it’s still unproven outside of demos and prototypes.
The Lightyear team claims the car can fuel up with more than just sunshine. The One is equipped with an charging port for charging from an outlet, even a regular ol’ household power socket. Lightyear claims that just plugging its car into a standard (3.7 kW) outlet for an hour would give you 40 km (about 25 miles) worth of power.
The solar power collected by the car’s panels could be used to power more than just the One itself, allowing owners to transfer the energy into their homes, devices, and even other electric cars. This type of system isn’t unlike how utility companies are harnessing nascent solar systems and batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall to bolster their grids, but a mobile charger sharing power is a new wrinkle to the practice.
It’s not exactly clear how the small company plans on producing its groundbreaking vehicles. The startup’s FAQ section includes some vague language about a “fundamentally re-engineered” new architecture that will require a “revolutionary production process.” They mention that industry partners have signed on to support the process, but don’t offer any specific names.
Lightyear’s founders aren’t new to the solar car scene, which makes the One slightly more believable than other high-flung concepts with little real world documentation to back them up. The company was started by five former members of Solar Team Eindhoven, the group that created the four-seat Stella solar-powered car, which hit the US streets back in 2014.
The startup won’t produce the One on a large scale, shooting for just 10 in 2019, with the next 100 “expected in 2020.” You can can pre-order your own now in the EU and US, but, unsurprisingly, it won’t come cheap. Reserving a One will run you a refundable 19,000 (around $21,700 at the current exchange rate) down payment, and the final cost is expected to be 119,000, a whopping $135,800.
The limited run won’t cause industry giants like Tesla to lose any sleep just yet, and Lightyear still has to prove it can transfer its experimental tech into a fully realized consumer experience. If the company succeeds, however, we could be looking at a new automotive future, directly powered by the sun.