Troubled Dutch Lightyear cancels solar car production (update)

The court in Dutch Oost-Brabant has declared the start-up of solar electric vehicles, Lightyear, bankrupt. The company announced the abrupt stop of assembling its first car, the 0, a few days ago, and filed for suspension of payments. Of the 650 people employed by Lightyear, 620 are without a job.

The holding company, Atlas Technology Owners BV, which owns investments from the Dutch government and Koenigsegg, survives. As this part of the firm is the holder of the name and the intellectual rights, a possibility for Lightyear remains to return. But that’s, of course, very unclear at the moment.

Concentrate on 2

The troubles at Lightyear surfaced beginning this week when the solar carmaker was forced to end production of its high-end solar car 0. Top management said the move was necessary to secure the development and planned arrival of the more accessible 2. A waiting list was opened for that car, and it was targeted for production at the end of 2025.

Reactions to the failure of Lightyear are diverse, ranging from that the idea was bound to falter from the start since solar panels aren’t powerful enough to provide enough range to scale up problems and lack of management skills.

Assembly at Valmet

Originally, Lightyear was a group of students bringing to market their high-school project, so their focus was very strong on product and technology, losing sight of cost and profitability along the way – a typical pitfall for start-ups. The fact that the price of the 0 suddenly rose from 150 000 to 250 000 euros when production was near, can be read as the first ripple in the pond.

The Lightyear 0 went into production last November at subcontractor Valmet in Finland at a rate of one unit per week. The aim was to build 956 vehicles in a total of the world’s most aerodynamic cars, partially sourced by patented solar panels on top of it. That outsourcing move proved too expensive.

Sting in the tail

Finding clients wasn’t an issue at Lightyear; the sting in the tail was finding money. For its 40 000-euro-costing 2, the company managed to attract 40 000 orders from private buyers, while leasing company Arval signed for 10 000 units, and Leaseplan 20 000.

At this point, customers who ordered or pre-ordered Lightyear models will have to deal with the appointed trustee. Ultimately, only a handful of 0 models will ever have seen the light.

One of the critical investors in the company is the Dutch government, joined in the summer of last year by Swedish sports car manufacturer Koenigsegg. However, these stakeholders funded the holding company above the operational branch of Lightyear.

Over at Sono

Lightyear isn’t the only solar car manufacturer in dire straits. Dutch counterpart Sono, known for its solar-powered hatchback Sion costing less than €30 000, is also desperately looking for fresh investment to survive and bring its first vehicle to market.

In December last year, the two founders of Sono, Jona Christians, and Laurin Hahn, launched a final call to raise money for the Sion project they started in their garage, which they updated on Thursday. They asked people who ordered or showed interest in making the full downpayment to get the car up and running. Sono needs €105 million, of which it has secured €45 million today.

Developing and assembling solar cars on an industrial level isn’t a sunny walk in the park. But, often, it is the pioneers that stumble and the followers that succeed.


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