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What if your electric vehicle (EV) could power itself? That’s a question that automotive startup Sono Motors hopes to answer with Sion, the world’s first solar-powered passenger EV.
Between the new technology and a proposed price tag that would be extremely affordable for many buyers, the company has generated a lot of interest around the world. However, Sono recently announced that it had fallen short of its funding goal, threatening the chance that Sion would make it to market. Now, the German company has reached out to potential buyers to raise those funds directly.
The EV sector is one that is tied closely with technological innovation. But Sono Motors’ plan for the Sion is ambitious, even by the standards already set by the forward-thinking, feature-rich vehicles that it hopes to compete with.
The headline-worthy technology is, of course, the car’s ability to use solar power to charge the battery directly. Sion features 330 photovoltaic cells mounted onto the body of the vehicle, capable of producing 1208 watts at peak. This means that the solar cells could power the Sion for 21 miles (34 km) of driving under ideal sunny conditions in Central Europe – where Sono Motors is based – and about six miles (10 km) per day in an average year.
Yet solar energy is not the only way to charge the vehicle. The Sion EV also comes with a standard combined charging system (CCS) with a Type 2 plug, which is standard in Europe. Sono Motors says that it should take only 35 minutes to charge the battery to 80% at a fast charging station.
According to the Sono Motors website, the Sion has a range of 305 km, or around 190 miles, on a full charge. The rear-wheel drive car has a 161-horsepower motor capable of producing a top speed of around 87 miles (140 km) per hour.
In early December of 2022, Sono Motors announced in plain language that it had not met its funding goal.
“We failed to raise enough money to deliver on our promise,” says a message on the startup company’s homepage.
Sono had set production to start in 2023 through Finnish manufacturer Valmet Automotive. With the announcement, that target now appears to be in jeopardy. However, the company says that it isn’t giving up on the Sion.
“The logical consequence would now be to halt the Sion project and focus purely on our solar business,” the announcement continues. “But we do not want to take this option. That’s not the Sono way. We owe it to our Community to give them the chance to decide how our story continues.”
Now, Sono is looking to potential Sion buyers to help raise the funds needed to begin production through a pre-order drive. The drive, which began on December 7, is set to last 50 days – although the site notes that it may be extended by 40 days. Sono set the fundraising goal at 3,500 paid-for Sion EVs.
During this time, people can put down any amount from €500 to the full price of a Sion, which is currently set at €29,900. In U.S. currency, this equates to what would be a downpayment of approximately $535 on a vehicle with a pricetag of just under $32,000. People who pre-order their EV receive a discount in proportion to their down payment, up to €2,700 off of the list price.
However, the reservation option is only available to prospective buyers in Europe. While they can invest in the company, the pre-sale option currently isn’t open to people living in the U.S.
Sion’s onboard solar power system is, understandably, the headline-grabbing innovation that’s gotten much of the attention. However, Sono Motors has also worked to develop several other notable innovations for the vehicle.
The quirkiest (and therefore, most interesting) of these innovations is an air filtration system that the company calls BreSono. This technology uses live moss mounted into an air filter and placed in the ventilation system. It is also immediately visible inside the vehicle.
According to Sono, the BreSono system aids in both air filtration and humidity management. The company says that the moss can filter out 20 percent of air particulate matter and increase or decrease the humidity of cabin air based on environmental conditions. Due to its enzymatic nature, the moss doesn’t require watering or any special care until being changed out similarly to any other cabin air filter.
Sono Motors also leans into the contemporary idea of a “sharing economy” with goSono. Sion owners would be able to use a mobile app to share their vehicle’s electricity, for example. The app would also allow owners to use their Sion as a rideshare vehicle or rent it out to others.
In addition, the company has developed a “workshop” called reSono that is a fundamental departure from the traditional approach to repairing and maintaining a vehicle.
Sono intends to make its workshop manual for the Sion publicly available, with computer-assisted design (CAD) files for replacement parts. Users could use these files to 3D-print parts or use a computer numerical control (CNC) router to mill them at home. The company also plans to host a library of instructional videos that would aid Sion owners in replacing parts and doing repairs themselves.
Affordability has been one of the main hurdles for EV manufacturers as they attempt to grow their market share. According to data from Cox Automotive, the parent of Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the average price for an EV was $65,291 in September 2022 – compared to an average of $48,094 for gas-powered cars.
For that reason, Sono Motors’ proposed price tag of €29,900 is noteworthy in and of itself. If it holds, that price would make it one of the cheapest EVs on the market.
The European market may be Sono Motors’ primary target, but the company has set its sights across the ocean as well.
Earlier in 2022, the company toured the U.S. with “Neptune,” one of its series validation vehicles. Neptune hit major cities on both coasts, including New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The car also made a trip to Detroit – the symbolic home of American automotive manufacturing.
While stopping at high-profile locations like Times Square in New York City and giving rides to celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, the tour got the attention of national news outlets. It also got the attention of prospective American buyers, according to Sono Motors CEO Laurin Hahn.
“The result was overwhelmingly positive with many Americans being impressed by the targeted initial price point, expected solar cost savings and solar-expanded range, and shareability,” Hahn told Automoblog. “[These are] value propositions that resonated with many and led to a strong show of interest from many attendees.”
Hahn says that the tour is part of the company’s efforts to introduce itself to the U.S. market and get a foot in the door for a future entry.
“We have already received significant interest for solar mobility within Europe,” Hahn said. “Our goal with this U.S. tour was not only to demonstrate solar mobility to Americans but to listen to concerns, benchmark interest, build relationships, and refine our strategy for a potential U.S. market entry in the mid-term future.”
Over the last decade, EVs have started to claim a substantial share of the automotive market. Now, even as industry giants like Ford and Stellantis are staking their claim in “The Great EV Shift,” smaller companies like Tesla and Rivian are still among the most popular names in the EV world. The success of smaller startups in the EV space means there is an established pathway for companies like Sono Motors.
However, that doesn’t mean that the path is easy.
Growth in the EV market has resulted in a much more crowded market than the one that existed in 2016, when Sono began development. For example, manufacturers like Nissan and General Motors have bolstered their entry-level EV offerings. As a result, the Sion has much less space in the market than it did a few years ago, even at its low price point.
When it comes to price, Sono Motors would face an additional obstacle in the U.S. upon entry. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. government passed new legislation that gives tax credits towards the purchase of new and used EVs.
However, this law stipulates that certain parts of the vehicle must be made in the U.S. and that certain assembly processes be completed domestically. While other, more established manufacturers have the ability to comply with these regulations and receive tax credit eligibility, the Sion would not be eligible for the $7,500 credit under its current manufacturing plan. This would make the vehicle’s proposed price point less competitive.
Sono Motors also faces the same high-level challenges that other automakers face at this time. A still-struggling automotive supply chain and ongoing chip shortage have raised production costs and difficulty levels for manufacturers around the world. High inflation and interest rates have reduced expendable income and made cars less affordable overall.
For now, the future of Sono Motors is partly in the hands of its prospective customers. At the time of publication, the company website showed that it had pre-sold 1,301.8 Sions out of the goal of 3,500, or around 37% of the goal, with 24 days remaining in the initial campaign.
If the company reaches its fundraising goal, European residents may see the solar-powered EVs on the road by the end of 2023. People in the U.S. may be able to get one of the vehicles shortly after.
If Sono Motors doesn’t reach its goal, however, the innovations it achieved while developing Sion may live on. The idea of using natural moss as a functional part of the car, for example, lines up with the environmental appeal of EVs themselves. Making it easy for owners to share or use their car flexibly seems like a natural step for automakers in the current cultural and economic climate. Hosting a library of printable components and instructions on how to install and replace them is the kind of idea that could fundamentally change how people approach car repairs and maintenance in the future.
Solar Panels Mounting Rails And then, of course, there is the concept of a solar-powered electric car. The idea itself may have sounded far-fetched not that long ago. Now, with huge advances made in solar, battery, and electric motor technologies and the Sion as proof-of-concept, Sono Motors has made it seem almost inevitable.