This entrepreneur paid €120,000 for a Lightyear 0

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Buying a Lightyear 0

It is 2017 when I order one of the first Lightyear solar cars on behalf of Voys. By then we had been driving Tesla for almost four years and I really see Lightyear as the next sustainable step. And holy shit, this dream just comes from the Netherlands. The purchase of the car for 120,000 euros becomes an investment of 150,000 euros a few years later with the right to purchase.

We follow developments enthusiastically and three years ago at 5:00 am we attended the official unveiling of the car in TheaterHangaar in Katwijk. It is a restless, but beautiful journey for the young company.

However, a few months before our car goes into production, I get a call. The car becomes significantly more expensive and cannot be delivered for the agreed amount. I decide that we withdraw as an investor. The 150,000 euros was my limit amount. That’s all I can justify – not even to my Voys colleagues. We get the money back.

It is January 26, 2023 when Lightyear’s production branch is declared bankrupt and 620 people are on the street. I’m getting a call this week. “You know that club from the beginning. What do you think of this?’

Lightyear really didn’t do everything perfectly

Let me start by saying that Lightyear really didn’t do everything perfectly. Whatever you want. To create a company in six years with five young, inexperienced founders that wants to reinvent everything about the car.

The most sustainable car, with the largest range through innovative design, with new lines and new materials. And oh yes, solar powered. That’s the ambition.

A company that grows to more than 600 colleagues with 200 million euros in funding. There is a lot of unrest in such a company. In such a company, the person who was an intern five months ago becomes responsible for PR while the toko goes bust.

CEO Lex Hoefsloot showed Lightyear’s solar car to the general public for the first time in June 2019. Photo: Mark Vletter/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Look at what companies do, not what they say

You can find everything about that. MT/Sprout journalist Philip Bueters rightly called it ‘fake it until you make it’ in his analysis, and I’ve always had a hard time with that. A friend of mine always says, “Look at what people do, not what they say.” The same applies to companies.

Lightyear said a lot, but Lightyear also did a lot. Ten of those cars just rolled out of the factory. Full of new materials, solar panels on the roof, motors in wheels and with the lowest air resistance. Wow.

And Lightyear has a team, knowledge, expertise and an enormous amount of expertise in that process tech stack built up. Lightyear was mainly building towards their real goal: an affordable revolutionary car.

That is the story of Lightyear: making expensive cars that sell enough to build the organization, and then produce the cheap car that can really make an impact.

Developing a solar car costs billions

The reality, however, was different. That expensive car was not sold enough. That expensive car – covid, raw material crisis, chip crisis, war in Europe, energy crisis – became far too expensive. Continuing with the production of that expensive car was therefore a loss-making and dead end.

Because building a car is one thing. Keeping a car on the road reliably for decades is a completely different story. Those money, energy and time must go to the affordable brother, the Lightyear 2.

But if you do milestones if not, it will be very difficult. Because there is one thing everyone knew in advance: you don’t build a new car company for a million, not for 10 million, not for a few hundred million.

Building a next-gen car company at Lightyear’s ambition and impact level will cost billions. And you only get that money if you show what you can do step by step.

lightyear onthulling 2019
The first Lightyear prototype was unveiled in 2019. Photo: Mark Vletter/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A possible buyer of Lightyear: Shell?

Back to the core of my story. You shouldn’t look at what companies say, you should look at what they do. There are more companies saying things.

Shell is a good example of this. Yes, the ‘we change for a clean future and made $18 billion in a quarter’ Shell. Another example is ‘fossil-free in one generation’ Vattenfall.

MT/Sprout already wrote about 4 possible future scenarios for Lightyear. I want to add one: Shell is investing real money in Lightyear.

Yes, that sounds absurd. But if Tesla, as a car manufacturer, also makes gas stations – superchargers – why shouldn’t a gas station operator make cars? Shell can very well use the knowledge they gain and to which they have access in other areas.

Solar cars put less strain on the grid

As far as I’m concerned, they’re doing it in a joint venture with Vattenfall. The energy companies benefit most from these solar cars. There will be a huge cost item for the grid operators, according to researchers at Stanford University.

Electric cars entail enormous network costs for generating, transferring and storing energy. Due to solar charging and efficiency, solar cars only burden the net half as much as electric cars would. Solar cars may therefore be the future.

As far as I’m concerned, they immediately buy VDL to produce the cars in Born. Then Shell can finally show the general public that they really mean business. By doing. Because a bankruptcy of Lightyear says a lot about the state of the world when it comes to climate change: say a lot, but don’t do it.

Lightyear dreamed and did. If we want to leave a world for our children, they deserve the next step.

Read also: Lightyear, VanMoof and GreenMo: tech as a job engine lacks its cheap fuel (money)

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