Ground-breaking car Aussies would love
THERE'S a bit of buzz around the new Lightyear electric car, which claims to have solved the problem of range anxiety along with dependence on power infrastructure.
Founded by a Dutch group following success in Australia's World Solar Challenge, Lightyear's first production car combines a regular electric car battery with five square metres of solar panels placed on the bonnet, roof and boot.
Those panels add 12 kilometres of range for every hour the car spends in the sun.
Find a sunny corner of the office carpark for the day and you'll come back to find a fresh 100 kilometres of driving range at no cost.
Solar panels on cars aren't a new idea. A number of brands including Audi, Toyota and Mazda have used them to keep cabins cool and ventilated before drivers pop behind the wheel.
But a production car powered in part by solar energy goes against the trend for electric vehicles.
Lightyear claims a healthy 725 kilometres of range through its battery (which you can plug in to charge at a rate of up to 570km of range per hour). If you start a long drive with a full charge, the solar panels will extend your trip by at least 85 kilometres - as long as conditions are clear.
Better still, if you run out of charge on a sunny day, the Lightyear One's solar array can soak up enough energy for steady running at 15 to 20km/h.
Other electric cars have to call for a tow truck.
A calculator on the brand's website shows potential owners in sunny Alice Springs would get nearly 74 days a year of carefree motoring (working from a 20,000 kilometre annual average), nearly twice as much as those in Melbourne.
Downsides include performance that falls well behind electric rivals. Lightyear claims its car takes 10 seconds to reach 100km/h - roughly twice as long as cars made by the likes of Tesla. Safety is accounted for by just two airbags at a time when Mercedes' cheapest car has nine.
It's also quite expensive, priced from €149,000 ($243,300) plus import duty, GST and luxury car taxes which would add more than $90,000 to the car's cost if it comes to Australia.
Lightyear don't claim the car makes economic sense - it would take a lot of solar-charged driving to pay off such an expensive car - instead pitching it toward folks who want to get off the grid and make a statement with their next set of wheels.