Their dream is to make solar-powered transportation available to everyone. Solar cars do not have to be expensive. That is the idea behind Squad Mobility. In September, the Dutch start-up from Breda will present its first Solar City Car. At this very moment the final design is still being worked on. The aim is that the solar cars will be available for sale from 2022 onwards for around 6,000 euros.
“As it happens, the solar panels came in yesterday,” says CEO Robert Hoevers from their office/workshop in Breda, where he and chief of design Chris Klok are putting everything together. Parts arrive from all over the world. The solar panels from China, the aluminum frame from Poland and the batteries from Korea. “We design all the parts in the Netherlands and then manufacturers set to work on these drawings. We then do the final assembly here.”
Hoevers and Klok are both no strangers to the world of mobility. For example, Klok collaborated on the Pal-V, a flying car, and developed scooters for Piaggio in Italy. Hoevers was at the cradle of Formule E and was one of the founders of the China Racing Team that competed in this race for electric cars. They met each other at Lightyear and decided to set up something themselves.
No major international players on the market as yet
Hoevers: “Lightyear is of course a wonderful and fantastic project. But the disadvantage is that this solar car is only for a select group of people. Simply because not everyone can afford it. Solar panels are not that expensive. And vehicles that drive them don’t have to be either. We saw this as an excellent opportunity to make affordable and clean mobility a reality.”
The solar vehicle that Hoevers and Klok are working on has a range of 100 kilometers thanks to the exchangeable batteries. And automatic recharging via the solar panels on the roof yields another 20 kilometers. There is room for two passengers with luggage space in the back. At 45 km/h, it goes faster than most scooters but slower than a real car. That’s a conscious choice according to Hoevers. “As a start-up, it’s hard to compete against billion-dollar companies like Mercedes. Also, we are not a mobility vehicle, like the Biro is, for example. Our segment, the light electric vehicles, is still in the process of being developed. There are no major international players as yet, but there is a lot of demand for this type of solution. Especially in urban areas.”
Not running haywire
The challenge for Squad Mobility lies not only in keeping the vehicles cheap, but also in the fact that the parts have to come from all over the place. Hoevers believes that timing is key. “The exciting thing is that it is a large project with a lot of different parts that we have made or that we buy separately. You have to manage that properly, especially if we’re going to move towards mass production. The software needed for ensuring that this is done properly is already fully operational. This allows us to grow in a controlled manner, without everything running haywire.”
Hoevers is not afraid that parts might not arrive on time. “Delays are always lurking around the corner. But production capacity can be found everywhere. There are always companies on hand that can weld and bend something. What’s much more important is getting the right information – designs and business processes – to the right place on time.”
Finding a parking spot in the sun autonomously
The Solar City Car is designed for everyone, but the start-up is now focusing on sharing platforms and cities. “Municipalities are looking for alternatives that are sustainable. Electric solutions require charging stations, it is an additional burden on the local grid. Moreover, cars take up a lot of space and are stationary for a long time. We are solving this. You don’t need extra charging stations because you have free charging via sunlight or through charging batteries. Thanks to the battery, you can use the time you are stationary in a more useful way. And one parking space can easily accommodate three Squads. If you travel in pairs, a Squad uses about 1 m2 per person. That is comparable to a bicycle, but a lot faster and far more comfortable.”
The solar vehicle is equipped with all kinds of sensors so that an owner of a sharing platform knows exactly where a vehicle is, how high the tire pressure is and whether the battery is still in good condition. The solar vehicle also has a camera on the front and back. For autonomous driving in the future, Hoevers explains. “Mind you, we’re not that far yet, But by using AI we can anticipate user behavior, which is not rocket science. So, at the end of the day, Squads will drive autonomously to the Zuidas in Amsterdam, for instance, so that a vehicle will be ready and waiting. Or that a Squad standing in the shadow of an apartment building moves a bit during the day to catch the sun.”
But now the cameras are mainly there to support the driver, as a parking aid for one thing. Or a sharing platform can use them to remotely move wrongly parked vehicles. “At the moment, someone has to go there to park these vehicles in the right place. Soon, an operator at a sharing platform will be able to move a vehicle from their workstation.”
Squads all over Barcelona or Paris?
The company is attracting interest from all over the world and is in talks with several sharing platforms. According to Hoevers, these include several countries in Europe, India and sunny parts of the US. He also says there is a remarkable amount of interest from islands and vacation-oriented resorts. The company wants to do the final assembly where the market is. Hoevers: “In the beginning, we will be doing that mainly in Breda. But because the frame is made in Poland, it’s quite conceivable that we’ll also do the final assembly over there. The same applies to the American and Asian markets; we are not going to ship any vehicles by sea. We don’t want to make our ecological footprint any bigger.”
The CEO is expecting to bring in the first orders very soon. It doesn’t stop there because Hoevers is expecting much more. “It would make me really happy if I saw Squads driving everywhere in Paris or Barcelona. That would definitely make me feel like we have succeeded.”
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