It’s that time of year when the CES email spam goes into overdrive. I won’t be on the ground in Las Vegas in 2023 for the gigantic consumer tech trade show, but one pitch almost—well, ok, partly—makes me regret that, because it seems like an interesting idea. It’s a new city car from a Dutch company called Squad Mobility; a relatively ungainly thing if I’m honest, but one that suggests a tantalizing solution to the problem of city-dwellers needing EVs but not having anywhere to charge them.
That’s because the Squad solar city car, as its name suggests, uses the power of the sun to recharge its battery. Now, this is not a new idea; solar-powered cars have raced, albeit at quite low speeds, for many years now. Ars even rode in one, in Manhattan of all places.
But there’s always a trade-off. Those solar-powered racers are ultralight-weight creations, built with as little drag as possible. As day-to-day transport they would make even a vintage-car owner wince at the lack of creature comforts.
The problem is that, while solar panels are a great way to get energy, you need quite a lot of area to harvest enough to run something as power-hungry as an automobile. Covering a sedan’s roof with photovoltaics—as Hyundai has done with the Sonata hybrid—might generate a peak of 600 W, which is enough to run the air conditioning and keep the 12 V battery charged.
One alternative is to have extendable panels that you put out to charge. That’s the approach taken by a group of Dutch students from Eindhoven University of Technology, but even then the car takes 2 to 3 days to recharge.
Lightyear (yet another Dutch company, and are you sensing a theme yet?) has built something more conventionally car-shaped, a highly aerodynamic streamlined sedan called the 0. This, too, is solar-powered and has a maximum charging rate of 1 kW from its roof-mounted panels that can add up to 43 miles (70 km) in range on the sunniest of sunny days. The catch here? A $262,000 (€250,000) asking price and the fact that fewer than 1,000 will be built.
Which brings us back to the Squad solar city car, designed by a pair of former Lightyear employees. Much smaller than the examples listed above, it conforms to the regulations for Low Speed Vehicles here in the US, meant for EVs that have a speed cap of 25 mph (40 km/h).
Built around a solid-looking tubular roll-cage, the solar city car is styled mostly for practicality. On its roof is a solar panel with a peak output of 250 W that feeds the 6.4 kWh battery pack. It has three-point seatbelts and even cupholders, but the biggest draw might be the price—$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 on a sunny day in the Netherlands, the solar panel adds up to 13.6 miles (22 km) of range per day; in sunnier Las Vegas that could be as much as 19.2 miles (31 km). The battery packs are swappable and portable, and fully charged the pack has a range of 62 miles (100 km). And yes, you can charge the packs via plugging into a 110 V AC outlet if it’s not sunny.
“We are seeing a tremendous interest from the USA, specifically for markets such as sharing platforms, gated communities, campuses, (seaside) resorts, tourism, company terrains, hotels & resorts, amusement parks and inner city services,” said Robert Hoevers, one of Squad’s co-founders.