electric car sion : solar energy instead of horsepower

Sono Motors, one of the most unusual competitors of the classic car manufacturers, relies on solar power, battery electrics – and moss. A first test drive.

Rolling solar collector. The electric Sion from Sono Motors is scheduled for market launch in early 2023 and will produce its own electricity for extra kilometers with the help of built-in solar cells. Photo: Stefan Schutz/Sono Motors GmbH/dpa-tmn

The clouds in the Berlin sky can do little to harm the Sion. The solar panels embedded in the body of the black electric car soak up the remaining solar energy. The power of the integrated photovoltaic system can be read immediately on the display of the on-board computer. A rolling solar collector that charges the battery: The car from the manufacturer Sono Motors can drive up to 35 kilometers on pure solar energy – without a charging station and, of course, without fuel.

One of the most unusual competitors of the classic car manufacturers, presented on Wednesday in the capital its second electric prototype, which is supposed to be already close to the later series vehicle. Sono founder and CEO Laurin Hahn calls it an SEV, a Solar Electrive Vehicle.

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The Sion is not yet available for purchase. Production will not start until 2023. And anyone tracing the history of the company, which was founded in 2016, may well be unsure whether the start-up entrepreneurs will keep to their schedule this time around. Because in the meantime, the founders ran out of money – and then Corona came along too.

In the midst of the pandemic, Sono Motors 2020 has struggled to secure its latest round of funding, with one of Europe’s largest crowdfunding campaigns, as they proudly note. To date, the Munich-based company has raised €100 million from small and large investors. And good 13.000 interested people have paid an average of 3000 euros to reserve a car. Together, this adds up to a sum that is a joke compared to the development budgets of major automakers. But Sono Motors is serious and the inventors are anything but conventional carmakers.

The car should be on the market as early as 2019

“We are now solidly financed,” says Laurin Hahn in an interview with Tagesspiegel Background. The 26-year-old does not confirm reports of possible stock market plans. What is clear, however, is that further capital will have to be raised once production gets underway. Nevertheless, Sono Motors is not afraid of competition from established manufacturers, despite the turbulence in the past. Already 2019 should come the car on the market. “The Sion is still competitive in 2023,” Hahn believes. The market is large enough for a niche player, he said. ‘There’s enough pie for everyone’.”

On Wednesday, Sono Motors brought a news to Berlin with it. One offers future customers more battery power for the same price. The Sion will now get a 54 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium iron phosphate battery, he said. The battery is free of cobalt, manganese and nickel. So far, the Sion was to be equipped with a 35 kWh-hour battery pack. The company has a stake in the purchase price of 25.500 euros, nothing would change. The new bidirectionally chargeable battery allows a range of up to 305 kilometers (WLTP) and a maximum charging power of 75 kW. The power of solar cells delivers another up to 35 kilometers of range. In practice, things are likely to be more modest.

Production will be handled in Trollhattan, Sweden, by the Chinese-Swedish contract manufacturer Nevs, a successor company to Saab. Sono Motors is buying just under half of the car from established component suppliers. The engine comes from Vitesco, a Continental subsidiary, the electronics from Bosch, the battery from Elring-Klinger. This saves time, money and effort, says technology boss Markus Volmer, who used to be at Daimler. “The development work is not quite finished, but we are now preparing for producibility.”The first signs that the Sion with its own solar system in the plastic body will also get the green light from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority are already there.

Production target: 257.000 vehicles

Sono Motors wants 43.000 Sion sold per year, 257.000 throughout the vehicle’s life cycle. In mathematical terms, a new model should then be ready by the end of the decade. That is a hopeful value. Currently, the team, which has quickly grown from 150 to 230 employees, is trying to launch a car that breaks almost all the rules of the market.

So the family-friendly Sion is only available in black and without individual configurations. The designers have only one extravagance in the interior: real Iceland moss is embedded in the dashboard as a bright green, natural ventilation filter. After two years, Laurin Hahn recommends, the moss should be replaced – like the filter of an ordinary air conditioner.

Pure online sales should save 15 percent in costs, Sono Motors also wants to earn money later on by selling CO2 certificates to other manufacturers – like its big competitor, Tesla. The car can be repaired by the users themselves (tutorials make it possible) and in a yet unnamed large workshop chain.

The young carmakers are taking a completely new approach as mobility providers. Customers can use their smartphone to offer other people the car, electricity or a ride (in car sharing or ridepooling). The community, which Laurin Hahn raves about, accompanies the development work with commitment, is actively involved with its own ideas and even given a seat on the company’s advisory board. A lot of information about the development process is available on the website, which other carmakers keep strictly confidential. Car production grassroots.

“We are unbeatable,” says Hahn on Wednesday. Big sounds for a small car. In any case, they show that Hahn and his co-founder Jona Christians have not lost their self-confidence after the financial roller coaster ride.

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