Afterwards, he himself called it brutal towards MT/Sprout. Lex Hoefsloot founded Lightyear in 2016 to develop solar-powered passenger cars. He sold the first copies of the later Lightyear 0 as early as 2017. ‘At the time there were still five of us, we still had to make our first prototype. But people could definitely sign up for a species presell. In retrospect, quite a bold move, of course.’
His startup Lightyear elevated it fake it until you make it almost to art. This week, the maker of the electric car with solar panels once again took flight: it pulled the plug on its first model, which had just gone into production in Finland. A bankruptcy of the operating company that produced the Lightyear 0 should relieve the rest of Hoefsloot’s company from that loss-making activity, from 600 of the 650 employees and from the obligation to refund the down payments on the solar limousine, which costs up to 250,000 euros.
It is called a strategic reorientation in a press release. From now on, Lightyear will deploy all its people and resources on the Lightyear 2. After all, that is the model on which its mission was focused from the start: the affordable solar car for everyone. It must be on the market before the end of 2025, with a price tag below 40 grand. What scenarios can we imagine on the way to that new promise?
Scenario 1: Lightyear gets the promised Lightyear 2 on the road
Let’s start with the most optimistic scenario: Hoefsloot manages to get the car on the market before the end of 2025. To put the desired price into perspective: today you can order a Volkswagen ID3 built in large numbers for less than 45,000 euros – without a single solar cell.
Lightyear will mainly concentrate on its own technological development where it really makes a difference. Thanks to that very expensive 0, one demonstrator to appease investors, the technology has matured to such an extent that it can be quickly applied in a model to be produced in large volumes. Investors are not discouraged by the surprising bankruptcy and Lex Hoefsloot will succeed in the coming months, with 21,000 business pre-orders and a waiting list of 40,000 consumers, to regain sufficient confidence from investors and they will once again transfer substantial amounts.
Suppliers are also happy with the startup from Helmond, and are investing time in the development of parts for the 2, taking the risk that production of the model in large numbers is not guaranteed.
Hoefsloot can ask fellow car magnate Elon Musk what it takes to get an affordable EV on the market. It has been promising an entry-level Tesla for $ 35,000 since 2016. That was the Model 3, but when it came on the market, it was from 47 grand. The ambition to push that price to below 35K with modern batteries, scaling up and production in China was put on hold twice. Musk (just like Lightyear) is now applying: he promises a smaller hatchback for 25 grand.
The Tesla has no solar cells to boost its range. In that respect, the German Sono Motors is a better example for Lightyear. That startup started about the same time as Lightyear and is working on one solar electric vehicle, the Zion. The Germans skipped the expensive image builder and immediately developed their affordable solar car.
The promised consumer price of the Sion has risen steadily in recent years, to now close to 30,000 euros. Sono Motors also wants to transfer production to Valmet in Finland, where the Lightyear 0 had to roll out. It also boasts tens of thousands of orders for its first model, but the comparison does not end there: Sono motors is also short on cash.
At the end of last year, founders Jona Christians and Laurin Hahn let out a last cry of heart with the hashtag saveSion : if 3500 people who ordered a Sion actually cross the bridge, the startup can move forward another year – otherwise the plug will be pulled out. projects. Capital raised to date: $126 million, partly through an IPO on the US Nasdaq.
Capital alone is not the cure-all, but Lightyear will need a lot of extra money to achieve the most optimistic scenario. To date, investors such as SHV, Invest-NL and the Swedish Koenigsegg have invested more than 200 million euros in the company in various rounds. A lot of money, but peanuts in the car industry. Tesla has so far raised $20 billion for the development and production of its models. Volkswagen allocated 35 billion euros for the development of electric models over the years 2021 to 2025. For each model, at least a factor of 10 of what Helmond has burned so far.
Scenario 1 is all in all a dream scenario.
Scenario 2: Lightyear will collaborate, preferably with VDL
This scenario sounds a bit more realistic. Lightyear will in any case outsource production to an automotive partner. Since November, Valmet has been busy manually assembling around 1000 model 0’s, but the Finns have experience with the production of much larger volumes. Saab and even Lada had their models assembled there, and in recent years Mercedes has been a good customer with its A-Class and GLC.
Valmet had to downsize twice in the past year because Mercedes is cutting production and may not be the dream partner to house an electric car full of new technology.
Enter VDL, which is struggling with the same problem as the Finns, but at VDL Nedcar in Born. That factory has been looking for a new job for years, and has already talked to various electrical brands. Let’s call scenario 2 the orange, heartwarming scenario. The Van der Leegte family’s life fulfillment is to keep the manufacturing industry in the Netherlands, and thanks to high-tech innovation and far-reaching automation, they succeed very well.
If VDL were to convert its factory for the production of an electric car, that would require significant investments. But such an orange story can certainly count on a gesture from the Dutch government. Via Invest-NL, he already has 25 million outstanding with Lightyear and can protect his investment by making additional payments.
In this scenario, the Lightyear 2 will be there, but to keep it realistic, production will start later than the end of 2025. Its price will also not fall below 40 grand, but with the current price developments for electric cars, no one cares: whoever can receive the keys to his 2, made in Born, sometime in 2026, is part of an adventure with a happy ending.
Scenario 3: Lightyear makes an exit through a nice patent deal
Even a little more realistic: Lightyear knows how to find a good destination for the clever technology it has developed before reaching the end of the runway. It will not be packaged in its own solar car, but will be transferred to another party thanks to a good exit. Lightyear buys it because of its patent portfolio, perhaps because of the bright minds that are still around. In that case we call it one purchase.
Preferably it is an automotive party that uses the patents so that they still appear on the road, albeit under a different brand name. The super-efficient propulsion of the Lightyears is particularly impressive – don’t forget that the extreme endurance of the cars is only partly due to solar energy, but certainly also to their frugal consumption.
This scenario is not at all as pessimistic as it sounds. For more than ten years, hundreds of technicians in Eindhoven and Helmond have built up knowledge and experience about sustainable mobility. If the value they built up with that generates good money, it is still a success. After the transfer of the technology and a change of some nameplates, the EV and solar experts continue with high-tech development. Just like Lightyear’s suppliers in the region. Lightyear is not the first Dutch car brand to suffer, but the automotive industry continues to flourish.
Scenario 4: Lightyear goes after Spyker
I’d rather not, this scenario. Lightyear will soon find fresh capital, but not enough to complete the period until the end of 2025. Management’s attention is distracted by the urgent need for capital. The discussions with potential financiers of an increasingly exotic nature are endless.
In the meantime, it is improvising in the development of the 2. A matter of relying more and more on existing, purchased technology. To partners who are responsible for more and more development. The requirements for the 2 are reduced time and time again, until the affordable solar car is little more than an existing (Chinese?) model with a Lightyear badge and a few extras from the Helmond candy store.
With the finish line in sight, disappointed creditors and customers are stirring. Bankruptcies from the past, such as that of January 2023, have a negative aftermath that causes Lightyear to fizzle out in a tangle of lawsuits and financial trapeze.
A painful scenario that we don’t wish on anyone. Certainly not the entrepreneurs, technicians and investors who have stuck their necks out so far. We keep our fingers crossed that Lightyear does not end up in Spyker’s slipstream.