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July 24, 2019

Designing Lightyear One: from concept to car

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Koen van Ham
Chief Design and Co-founder

We wanted people to fall in love with Lightyear One at first sight. We wanted a form that people would recognize as world class, but that also displays what sets Lightyear One apart. It should be familiar, but point to the future we believe in, one in which automotive design balances on efficiency. Our main goal wasn’t technological, though there were engineering challenges we knew we’d have to solve. Our goal was and is to change how people relate to electric vehicles.

People-centered design

We did that by putting people at the center of the design process. We worked iteratively with potential customers. It started in June 2017, when we released a teaser focused on design. It got a huge response, which allowed us to invite interested people to our headquarters. Our discussions with them helped us hone in on what consumers truly need and want from their car. We learned what they liked and found key aspects of our solar car design. We were able to iterate by using virtual reality to create digital mockups and gather feedback. This technology allowed us to increase iterations and speed while incorporating time for reflection into the design process.

Freedom of the road

The appeal of the car is the freedom that it offers, the primal call of the open road. We started thinking about what else our car could do to free its owner. Could we translate the carefree feeling of skipping lone highway charging stations into the whole experience of the car? That led us to another way of thinking about Lightyear One: as a mobile energy source. We started thinking about how valuable that could be on adventures, which prompted us to design a way for appliances to plug into the car. Suddenly, new possibilities for off-grid adventures opened up. At Lightyear, we like to encourage this kind of creative thinking, in ourselves and our drivers.

A pioneering look

Exterior design is crucial to how people relate to their car. It should encourage people to go anywhere and return from their adventures stress-free. Our initial image was the freedom of sailing and the solidity of a sturdy car in nature. You can see it in the exterior of Lightyear One. It has a super-efficient upper body with a robust lower half. Most importantly, it captures the eye and uses that moment of attention to inspire the viewer with possibilities.

One of the important sketches in the period between October 2018 and January 2019, during which some new improvements for the front and the rear were included

Minimalistic design

We aimed for a timeless, minimalistic approach. The car will have minimal impact on the environment and the design emphasizes this. It doesn’t scream for attention, but radiates a true beauty that will become iconic. We created it in collaboration with Lowie Vermeersch and his company, Granstudio. They have been designing supercars for decades and were excited to design the next step in clean mobility. The team made up of Granstudio designers and our engineers started by setting exterior design goals. This was crucial because it set the standards for the final outcome. These objectives were: a large area for solar cells, low rolling resistance, low aerodynamic resistance, reduced weight and an aesthetically pleasing appearance. It’s important to find the right balance of ingredients to create a high-performance vehicle with a striking aesthetic.

Challenges to solve

In the beginning, there were obstacles to designing an aesthetically pleasing solar car. One of the most critical was creating a double-curved solar roof, which hadn't been done. We were also concerned with how solar cells look on the car roof. They had a huge impact on the car's appearance, so we set out to produce a solution for both. Thanks to our engineering team, we have not only been able to create a double-curved solar roof but to cover it with beautiful strengthened glass. It makes the cells underneath look like futuristic space-age technology. It’s the perfect example of efficient engineering being the single answer to a problem that is both technical and aesthetic.

This is one of my favorite aspects of Lightyear One: meaningful technology made beautiful by great design.

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