• Dutch tech company Lightyear, which has a South African co-founder, is building a vehicle that will be solar-powered.
  • In a country like South Africa, it could travel up to 32,000 km a year on solar only.

The Dutch-owned company Lightyear has much in common with Tesla.

Both want to revolutionise the automotive industry with vehicles that don't run on petrol. Both also have founders from Pretoria. In Tesla's case, Elon Musk attended Pretoria Boys High. Qurein Biewenga, Lightyear's co-founder, went to Hoërskool Waterkloof. 

Lightyear has been making waves with its plans for a four-wheel-drive luxury sedan that will be powered by the sun, named the Lightyear One.

"We are making an electric car that charges itself," the 26-year-old Biewenga told Business Insider SA.

See also: This could be the most critical week in Tesla's history

In colder countries, the vehicle should be able to do 10,000 kilometres a year on solar charging alone, without ever needing a wall plug. In sunnier places – like South Africa – the car should be able to reach 32,000 kilometres powered by the sun. 

The digital media platform Mashable called the Lightyear One a "solar-powered Tesla killer".

The company is receiving orders for the Lightyear One, which will go into production early next year. The car is priced at €119 000 (R1.7 million). 

Lightyear was formed by five former students from the Eindhoven University of Technology, who were part of a team who won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge twice in the past five years with prototype solar-charged vehicles. 

"We decided we can take our expertise to create sustainable transport and launch a commercial vehicle in the market," say Biewenga.

The team has since grown to 40 full-time staff.

Biewenga Qurein, co-founder of Lightyear. (Photo: Startup Eindhoven)

Biewenga says the team has focused on the aerodynamics and lightweight construction to maximise its efficiency.

Born and bred in South Africa, Biewenga's family moved to the Netherlands towards the end of his high school years. 

The country of his birth is one of the most favourable markets for solar power in the world. Most areas in South Africa average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year. The annual 24-hour solar radiation average is about 220 watt per square metre for South Africa, compared with about 100 W/m2 for Europe.

Still, Lightyear is only focused on Europe for now, says Biewenga.

"But we do have global ambitions," he assures us.

That could include South Africa.

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