It’s that time of year when the CES email spam goes into overdrive. I won’t be in Las Vegas in 2023 for the giant consumer technology show, but one pitch almost — well, okay, partially — makes me regret that because it seems like an interesting idea. It is a new city car from the Dutch company Squad Mobility; a relatively crass thing to be honest, but one that suggests a tantalizing solution to the problem faced by city dwellers who need electric cars but have nowhere to charge.
That’s because the Squad solar city car, as the name suggests, uses the power of the sun to charge its battery. This is not a new idea; Solar-powered cars have been racing for many years, albeit at fairly slow speeds. Ars even drove it, in Manhattan of all places.
But there is always a trade-off. Those solar-powered racers are ultralight creations, built with as little drag as possible. As everyday transport, they would even make an old-timer owner shudder at the lack of comfort.
The problem is that while solar panels are a great way to get energy, you need quite a bit of acreage to harvest enough to run something as energy-hungry as a car. Covering a sedan’s roof with photovoltaic cells – as Hyundai has done with the Sonata hybrid – can generate a peak of 600W, which is enough to run the air conditioning and keep the 12V battery charged.
An alternative is to have slide-out panels that you can charge. That is the approach of a group of Dutch students from Eindhoven University of Technology, but even then it takes 2 to 3 days to recharge the car.
Lightyear (again a Dutch company, and feeling a theme yet?) has built something more conventionally car-shaped, a very aerodynamically streamlined sedan called the 0. It also runs on solar energy and has a maximum charging speed of 1 kW from the on roof-mounted panels that can add up to 70 km of range on the sunniest days. The catch here? An asking price of $262,000 (€250,000) and the fact that fewer than 1,000 will be built.
Which brings us back to the Squad solar city car designed by a few former Lightyear employees. It is much smaller than the examples mentioned above and complies with the low speed vehicle regulations here in the US, intended for electric cars with a speed limit of 40 km/h (25 mph).
Built around a solid-looking tubular roll cage, the solar-powered city car is primarily practical in design. On the roof is a solar panel with a peak power of 250 W that feeds the 6.4 kWh battery pack. It has three-point seat belts and even cup holders, but its biggest draw may be its price: $6,585 (€6,250) when it goes on sale in the US in 2024. That battery powers a pair of 2 kW motors, one driving each rear wheel.
Squad says that the solar panel provides a range of 22 km per day on a sunny day in the Netherlands; in sunnier Las Vegas that could be as much as 19 miles. The battery packs are interchangeable and portable, and when fully charged the pack has a range of 100 km. And yes, you can charge the packs by plugging them into a 110V outlet when it’s not sunny.
“We see enormous interest from the USA, especially for markets such as sharing platforms, gated communities, campuses, (bath) resorts, tourism, business parks, hotels & resorts, amusement parks and inner-city services,” said Robert Hoevers, one of the co- founders of Squad.