Sono's Solar Assisted-Electric Car is Practical and Affordable
Tom Lombardo posted on August 13, 2017 |

How many times have you read about two friends developing the next revolutionary product in a garage? Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians - founders of automotive upstart Sono Motors - may be cruising down the same road as Hewlett & Packard or Wozniak & Jobs, if their crowdfunded solar-assisted electric vehicle (SAEV) turns out to be as good as they claim. With a price tag of only €20,000 ($23,600 US) and a range of 250 km (155 miles) - even more, on a sunny day - this five-seat SAEV is both practical and affordable.

Sono founders Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians unveil the Sion
Sono founders Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians unveil the Sion

Features and Specs

The Sion is a plug-in electric vehicle that incorporates more than seven square meters of solar panels on its non-window exterior surfaces, allowing the car to recharge its batteries while driving or parked in the sun. An added bonus: the car bidirectional charging feature makes the car a mobile power station; users can plug standard household appliances into its external outlet. (The outlet is locked, so you don't have to worry about other drivers "siphoning" your car's electricity when it's parked.)

Sion: a Five-seat Solar-Assisted EV
Sion: a Five-seat Solar-Assisted EV

Sion's base price is €16,000 ($18,800 US) - batteries not included. The company offers a battery rental program (they don't mention the cost), which lets users upgrade their battery packs as new technology becomes available, or customers can purchase a 35 kWh battery bank for an extra €4000 ($4800 US). With batteries, you're looking at a €20,000 ($23,600 US) solar-assisted electric vehicle. 

The relatively small 30 kWh Li-ion battery bank helps keep the car's cost down, but at the expense of range. The Sion can go 250 km (155 mi) on a full charge. That may seem small compared to a Tesla, or even a Chevy Bolt, whose 60 kWh battery will take the car 383 km (238 mi) on a charge. But considering that the average daily commute is less than 25 miles round trip, this isn't such a bad tradeoff. For comparison, both the low-end Tesla and the Bolt have price tags in the upper $30k range. Sion also has a quick-charger that enables the batteries to reach 80% capacity in about 40 minutes.

The solar array consists of 7.5 square meters of SunPower high-efficiency monocrystalline photovoltaic cells, which can, under optimal conditions, generate 1200 watts of power. Since some of the panels are on the sides of the car, optimal conditions will never occur. It's safe to say that on a sunny day, you're probably looking at about 800 watts at high noon. Sono claims that the solar panels add about 30 km of range per day. Realistically, that's probably closer to 20 km. The solar cells are covered with a shatterproof, weather-resistant polycarbonate protective layer. While the sky-facing solar panels on the roof and hood make sense, I think putting them on the doors is overkill. For the small amount of sunlight that reaches the doors and the less-than-optimal angle, they probably won't generate enough electricity to justify the cost.

One thing about the solar panels: they're semi-transparent, which gives a dual meaning to the term "sunroof."

Sion's sunroof as seen from inside the car.
Sion's sunroof as seen from inside the car.

The powertrain consists of an 80 kW (107 hp) three-phase motor controlled by a variable frequency drive, attached to a single-gear transmission. Sion's maximum velocity is 140 km/h (87 MPH) - not exactly "ludicrous" speed, but enough to get a driver in trouble, if he's so inclined. The powertrain has sufficient muscle to tow up to 750 kg (1653 lbs), with the optional trailer hitch.

The vehicle's interior is clean and uncluttered, featuring a simple dashboard display, a retractable touchscreen-based infotainment center, and a green air filter that's made of a special, self-sustaining moss.  

Inside the Sion
Inside the Sion

And this is, after all, a family car, so it includes air bags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, air-conditioning, an integrated child seat, and a security system. The seats fold down for extra cargo space.

See more technical details on the Sion Fact Sheet.

The Business Model

Sono Motors started when Hahn and Christians had a conversation about fossil fuels. That led to Jona Christians' garage, where the pair developed and tested their early ideas. In 2016, Sono Motors was officially established, and a crowdfunding campaign was launched. The team grew, and eventually, the company partnered with sports car maker Roding Automobile GmbH, who helped Sono bring its ideas to the manufacturing floor.

Two things about the Sono business model are intriguing. The battery rental option cuts the initial price down and allows customers to get the latest technology when it becomes available. I suspect, however, that this would cost more money in the long run. (I don't know for certain since they haven't released the rental prices yet.) But here's what's really interesting: the company will not have any authorized service centers. Instead, in an age where the shade-tree mechanic is becoming an endangered species, Sono gives each buyer a maintenance and repair manual with detailed instructions. A smartphone app allows the customer to purchase parts directly from the manufacturer, at wholesale prices. I suppose someone who's "mechanically declined" could take the car and manual to their usual automotive repair shop for service.

Take it for a Spin

Interested in a test drive? Well, if you live in Europe, you're in luck. The company will take a model on a tour of a dozen European cities, beginning August 18, 2017.

How soon before we see these in North America?

Images courtesy of Sono Motors


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