Nieke Roos
24 January 2023

With the Lightyear 0 having been declared bankrupt, the Helmond-based solar car trailblazer wants to go all-in on its low-end model 2.

Just two months after gloriously celebrating the first vehicle rolling off the assembly line at Valmet Automotive in Finland, the Lightyear 0 has been declared bankrupt. The district court in ’s-Hertogenbosch has granted Lightyear’s request to suspend all payments for Atlas Technologies, the subsidiary responsible for the production of its former flagship. Instead, the Helmond-based solar car trailblazer wants to go all-in on model 2, its affordable alternative for a wider audience. In the coming period, the court-appointed trustee will focus on the position of the employees and creditors as well as assess if and how the Lightyear concept can be continued.

“Our vision is to offer clean mobility for everyone, everywhere,” reads the press release following the Lightyear 0 discontinuation. “To make this a reality, we as a company are overcoming many challenges. In the past months, we’ve worked hard to deal with those challenges. To safeguard our vision, we had to decide to redirect our focus and resources completely toward the Lightyear 2. This decision wasn’t taken lightly as it impacts all who embarked on this journey with us. Those are of course our employees, who work day in and day out to make solar mobility a reality, alongside our investors, clients, suppliers and the government.”

Massive cost down

Lightyear went from zero to sixty in no time. More and more investors bought into the company’s lofty ambitions. Last September, the coffers were filled with additional tens of millions from a public consortium, led by Invest-NL and including the province of North Brabant and regional development agencies BOM and LIOF. Headcount has soared to a whopping 600+. But now, the ambitious company seems to have hit a serious, possibly fatal, bump in the road.

Building a car from scratch is already no small feat in itself and pulling that off using groundbreaking technology like curved solar panels and in-wheel electric motors, as Lightyear has done with its model 0, is already an achievement of epic proportions. With its initial guide price of 120,000 euros, later increased to 250,000 euros, however, this maiden vehicle was never meant to be a car for the masses. To realize the company’s vision of clean mobility for everyone, everywhere, a massive cost down was going to be inevitable.

BCe24 save the date

Following the global premiere of the Lightyear 0 last June, crucial inroads were laid for an affordable successor, the Lightyear 2. The R&D plied into the first model was said to give this next model a headstart, not only in creating an even more efficient and capable car but also in making it more accessible with a competitive market price. The Lightyear 2 was initially scheduled to launch in 2024 or 2025 for under 30,000 euros. Recently, purportedly because of increasingly daunting circumstances in the automotive industry, the start of production was pushed to the end of 2025 and the price was raised to 40,000 euros.

Devastating blow

With the latest announcements, it’s starting to look like Lightyear has bitten off more than it can chew. It’s clear that money has run out. The costly production of the Lightyear 0 has been halted to save at least some funds for the Lightyear 2, including what’s left of the recent injection from Invest-NL and associates, which was, in fact, partly earmarked to ensure production targets of model 0. While the trustee sorts this out, CEO and co-founder Lex Hoefsloot is continuing the search for fresh capital. In the coming weeks, he hopes to conclude some key investments “to scale up to the Lightyear 2.”

Keeping up appearances, Hoefsloot points to the overwhelming interest in the new model. “Recently, we launched a waitlist for the Lightyear 2 resulting in more than 40,000 subscriptions of individual customers and we already had approximately 20,000 pre-orders from fleet owners.” However, both the waitlist and the latest pre-order of 10,000 cars by leasing company Arval constitute nothing more than purchase intentions, far from hard cash, pre-dating the ominous news of the model 0 bankruptcy.

Lightyear is downplaying the discontinuation as a mere “strategic restructuring.” Atlas Technologies Holding, which controls the IP rights, and Lightyear Layer, the operating entity that makes solar panels in Venray, are both outside the scope of the bankruptcy; it ‘only’ involves Atlas Technologies – which employs 90 percent of the workforce, who are now out of a job. However you spin this, it’s a devastating blow, to all involved and most definitely to Lightyear’s reputation. Anyone considering getting involved is surely going to think twice. Lightyear has sacrificed yesterday’s flagship to save its future and keep its dream alive, but it might very well be just a temporary stay of execution.

Main picture credit: Lightyear