As college students in Brabant, they won the Solar Challenge with the Stella, a solar-powered family car. This led to the start of Lightyear. The prototype, the Lightyear One, was presented to the world in June 2019.
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It's June 25th, 2019. Thousands of journalists all over the world have received an important press release in their mailboxes. The title: Lightyear presents the first solar-powered private car.
A select group of investors, customers and partners have been invited to the presentation in TheaterHangaar in Katwijk. Early in the morning, when the glowing outline of the sun first appears on the horizon. “This moment marks the start of a new era”, says Lex Hoefsloot, CEO and co-founder of Lightyear. “Two years of dreaming, profound thought and hard work have led to this milestone. This is a huge step towards achieving our mission: making clean mobility available to everybody.”
Back to 2013. The founders of Lightyear first met when they were students at Eindhoven University of Technology. They participated as a student team in the Solar Challenge in Australia: ‘the Formula 1 of the solar-powered car world’, says co-founder Martijn Lammers.
“This race was organised for the first time in 2013, and we crossed the finish line as world champions at our first attempt.” The students from Eindhoven attracted attention because their car, the Stella, bridged the gap between engineering tinkering and practical use in everyday life.
After their victory, the students toured the world to present the Stella. Lammers remembers how the Chinese immediately understood its potential. “Air pollution is a major problem for the people living in large Chinese cities. Because most people in those cities live in skyscrapers, a concept based on charging stations is not practical. So our self-charging car is of real interest to them.”
The worldwide journey with the Stella was funded by companies like NXP. “NXP makes several automotive products so we were a good showcase for them.” Everybody asked us whether the car was for sale. ‘No, it isn’t’ was the answer that Lammers and his friends were forced to give. Much to their frustration.
In 2015, the boys came together to discuss the future. “We knew that we had something good, but we wanted more. Not just to inspire others, but also to have a real impact on the car industry and positively influence the environment”, says Martijn Lammers. An innovative, sustainable concept that works well, a world championship, interest from all over the world... What could possibly stand in the way of success? Even so, the future of the solar-powered car was anything but guaranteed. “The car industry was not interested in our concept. Self-imposed conventions meant that big companies were reticent, just as they were in respect of electric cars and the charging infrastructure.”
Lightyear started in 2016: five designers at the kitchen table, some of whom had just left college. The company grew quickly. “There were already ten of us by the summer of 2017. That was when we relocated to the Automotive Campus in Helmond. We had all the facilities we needed there to design a car. For example, a crash wall and an environmental test chamber.” Lightyear refined the Solar Challenge design in order to make the transition to a commercial product.
May, 2018. Lightyear is working on the consumer version of 'The One'. The most innovative start-up in the Netherlands has chosen the Automotive Campus in Helmond as its base. Post-its on the walls, desks covered with schematics and drawings. About thirty young people are putting the finishing touches to the consumer version of the world’s first family car to run entirely on solar power.
The plan is to have ‘The One’ ready for sale at the end of 2019. The car is clad with solar cells from front to back. Lammers: “We have proved to everybody that solar-powered mobility is no longer science fiction."
The great moment comes in the summer of 2019. The 'Lightyear One' is to be presented on a sunny Tuesday. From 2020 onward, this solar-powered family car will start to drive on Dutch motorways. Hoefsloot: “The main goal of this car is to offer practicality in areas where electric cars fail. Research has shown that limited range and the lack of a charging infrastructure are still major concerns when people consider switching to electric cars. ”
“We have solved these problems with ‘ultra-efficiency’. This design approach gives the vehicle an exceptional range of 725 km (WLTP) on a relatively small battery. Furthermore, the battery in the ‘One’ can be charged directly by the sun because the drive system’s energy consumption is much lower than that of conventional electric vehicles. This feature generates up to 20,000 km of extra energy per year. And, as an added bonus, all the charging options are much easier to use because the same amount of energy delivered by the charger gives you a much greater range.”
Et voila, Lammers was right in 2018 when he said: “Solar-powered mobility is no longer science fiction.”
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