In recent years, millions of public money have flowed into car manufacturer Lightyear in Helmond, which was granted a deferment of payment for a subsidiary. For many, the news came as a bolt from the blue. Automotive journalist Bart Kuijpers is not surprised. “This situation is a very obvious outcome.”
The company from Helmond announced on Monday that it had received a deferment of payment for its subsidiary Atlas Technologies BV. This company produced the Lightyear 0, a very expensive solar car costing 250,000 euros. Barely two months ago, Lightyear festively opened a new production hall in Finland. The plug has now been pulled because it became too expensive. Lightyear now wants to focus on the development of the Lightyear 2, a cheaper solar car.
Journalist Bart Kuijpers of the trade magazine Automotive Management is not surprised. “There has always been skepticism about Lightyear’s plans to become a car manufacturer. Especially since a role as a supplier could have been successful. Nevertheless, I have a deep respect for what Lightyear has achieved on a technical level.”
“Perhaps the company also needed this naivety to make it this far.”
He continues: “Perhaps the company also needed this naivety to make it this far. But if you consider that Tesla first lost $ 10 billion before making a profit of $ 1, there is no reason why Lightyear should could have saved as a manufacturer with less money.”
According to Kuijpers, the investment rounds already showed that confidence in the market was limited. “Lightyear raised several tens of millions each time. But if you have 600 employees, you already spend 4 to 5 million monthly on salaries. And then you have all your other costs, while hardly any money comes in.”
One of the parties that invested heavily in the first solar car is the Brabant Development Agency, the BOM. According to a spokesperson, the organization cannot say much about what will happen now. “We regret it. We always invest with a long-term vision. The same goes for Lightyear.” The other million-dollar investors, such as family group SHV and funeral director Dela, also give a similar reaction.
The BOM is aware that the investment was made with public money, but cannot say whether the money has now been lost. “That is always a field of tension,” says spokesperson Bram van den Hoogen. “It is very common that if you invest, you also have to deal with a non-disclosure agreement (agreement not to disclose certain information, ed.). We therefore do not make any statements about individual cases.”
“Everyone is surprised and not sure what will happen next.”
The latest news about the investments made at Lightyear dates from September last year. Then it was announced that the province was going to invest 7.5 million and the BOM 5 million. “These kinds of investments are very important,” says Van den Hoogen. “You want to drive innovation, but there is always a risk involved. One startup will make it, the other will not.”
The fate of Lightyear, which employs more than 600 people, is now in the hands of an administrator. The future is still unclear. This also applies to the production line in Finland, says journalist Timo Anttila of the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat. “Everyone is surprised and not sure what will happen next. I had the impression that Lightyear had secured 150 million in financing.”
“My advice: sell the technology.”
According to the journalist, this is another setback for the Finnish company Valmet Automotive, which would make the Lighyear 0. “But Lightyear was a small customer for Valmet. A major customer is Mercedes. It is now producing less. That means that Valmet may have to lay off 630 of the 2000 people.” According to Anttila, ten Lightyear solar cars have rolled off the production line so far. There were 30 people working for the solar car company in Finland.
Journalist Kuijpers fears for the future of Lightyear. “There is zero chance that the rest of the company, which produces the cheaper Lightyear, will not also be dragged along. My advice is: sell the technology. Hopefully everyone comes out unscathed. DAF also did not make it, but the smart stick is still used today. If the Lightyear technology is also used on a large scale, then they can be very proud of that.”
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