Whether the founders of the company Lightyear were fans of Toy Story is unknown, but they couldn’t come up with a better name for the first electric car that charges itself on sunlight. The fascinating story of Lightyear’s five co-founders started in 2013, when they joined the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia. The debut of the world’s first solar-powered family car was an outright success. Achieving an unprecedented 1.500-kilometer journey on one single battery charge, the Dutch team won the world championships in three consecutive years.
After these successes and after wrapping up their studies, the team of graduates was ready for the next step. They realized the automobile industry would quickly come up with similar solutions to clean mobility. Yet merely following the regular industrial career path did not seem attractive to them. Their vision was broader, their goals were bigger. What if they could realize clean and affordable mobility for everyone?
This required a professionalization of the efforts of the young students. The adventure started in 2016, the year in which the company Lightyear was founded. A business plan was drafted and presented to key figures in the solar energy industry. The first project was aptly called Stella or star, whose light forms the primary source of energy for the electric cars of Lightyear.
“The Lightyear One drives a maximum of 20.000 kilometres per year solely based on the free energy provided by the sun”
The first solar-car was launched to the public in 2017 and soon after the first eighty reservations for Lightyear One were placed. Equipped with solar panels on the roof and the hood, the Lightyear One drives a maximum of 20.000 kilometers per year solely based on the free energy provided by the sun. In addition, the five-door Sedan has a battery that pushes the car for another 725 kilometers and functions as a buffer in case it’s a rainy day or you’re driving at night. The battery either charges with extra solar energy or is plugged into a normal charging point. For example, if you wish to make a surfing trip along the coast of Portugal, a tour of roughly 1.200 km, you’ll probably won’t need to worry about gas stations or charging points at all.
“Since 2016, the Lightyear company grew from five co-founders to a team with over 130 people”
In short, the designers of Lightyear seem to have taken all possible scenarios into consideration. In case you’re still doubting whether a solar-driven car will keep you on the road in your hometown, the website of Lightyear has a simple option to search for your city and determine the amount of charging days you need to drive your usual amount of kilometers per year.
Since 2016, the Lightyear company grew from five co-founders to a team with over 130 people. The seat of the company moved from a kitchen-table to a 1000 square meter office near other automotive industries. In short, the story of Lightyear seems like a clean and green fairy tale. Co-founder Martijn Lammers was guest speaker at the Automotive Inspiration Day at B. Amsterdam. We had the chance to ask him some questions about the challenges Lightyear faces in developing a solar-charged electric car.
Good afternoon Martijn, welcome at B. Amsterdam. You just told us how Lightyear started as a graduation project but grew into something very promising. Could you tell us a bit more about the challenges you and your colleagues faced down the road?
Looking back, you can safely say our ideas for a solar-charged electric car have caught the wave. Yet when you zoom in, the whole process was really a series of taking one baby step at a time. First, the magnitude of the plan we were trying to set up fonfronted us: to provide clean mobility for everyone. We had to divide the problem up into small, manageable chunks to be able to start at all.
What’s more, we were just the five of us, trying to build a company around a concept that could revolutionize a whole industry. Thus after two years, we were still building prototypes, not the actual cars. Here it is important to stick to the plan, to take many small baby steps to finally make the grown-up leap to the final product. We now estimate to have our first actual solar-car ready in 2020.
“Although at times we ignored certain well-meant counsels and just followed our intuition”
That sounds very impressive, considering the fact that, back then, you guys just finished graduate school and had no foot in the automotive industry…
That’s certainly true. We had to search for coaches ourselves who could help us further in the different stages of development and design. In this way we could gather a lot of valuable advice. Although at times we ignored certain well-meant counsels and just followed our intuition. I guess that makes Lightyear a bit stubborn too.
What challenges does Lightyear expect in the future?
Well, it would be great if we knew that in advance, wouldn’t it? In general, I recognize two challenges. The first has to do with the governmental regulations we depend on. At times these regulations slow things down or make investments more insecure than necessary.
Secondly, we wish to expand internationally, a project that presents challenges of its own. Although we focus on Europe first and thus remain close to our home base, we try to master five different languages before we can start to deliver the solar car to those different countries. Considered on their own, all these problems are manageable. Together they present a quite big challenge. The best solution we have for those challenges is our old proven strategy of small baby steps. And who knows, perhaps we’ll be able to develop an affordable solar-driven car in the nearby future?