Over the last few years, people have asked me several times why electric car manufacturers aren’t putting solar panels on their cars to charge the battery. It sounds like a logical thing to do, isn’t it? I always argued there might be two good reasons for car builders to shy away from this idea. First of all the surface area for solar cells on a car is limited and their orientation not ideal, hence a low energy production could be expected. Secondly, solar panels are not cheap. Pardon me, they were not cheap. Nowadays they are. And hence… things have changed lately.
Earlier this year, Toyota launched its Toyota Prius Prime with a solar roof, for now only available in Japan. This modest looks modest compared to what Sono Motors has in store. This young German start-up is developing their first car named Sion. It’s a full-electric car covered in solar cells and a battery lasting 250 kilometers in real-world conditions. Solar cells everywhere: on the roof, on the hood, on the doors and on the rear. Good for 7.5 square meters providing enough energy on nice summer days to add 30 kilometers to the Sion’s range. That might not sound like much, but for many people, this is a good chunk of their daily commute. What will it cost, you ask? Sixteen thousand euros plus four thousand for the batteries, sir. The batteries can also be leased in a financing model similar to the Renault Zoe.
The specs I just listed are the core of what the Sono was all about from the very beginning. Back in 2012, founders Laurin and Jona wondered why electric cars didn’t get traction (pun intended) in environmentally conscious Germany. The answer was not too surprising: people were not satisfied with the price, the range, and the available charging infrastructure of the EVs in the market at that time. Instead of complaining, the two decided to get their own hands dirty and started tinkering.
Their idea didn’t go unnoticed, and after Laurin’s roommate Navina joined the team, the three officially founded Sono Motors and launched a crowdfunding campaign. Indeed, a crowdfunding campaign to build a new car for the ground up. Pretty remarkable, and guess what: it dropped like a bomb. Soon about 700 thousand euros were raised to turn their garage experiment into a car ready for the market. By working together with established car part manufacturers, Sono Motors was able to build a number of test-driving cars with which they toured Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France last summer. You can now place a preorder the Sion online. If they hit the cape of 5000 reservations, the car will go into production, expectedly in 2019.
Let’s go back to the car again, which is a truly unique piece of tech if you ask me. The body is mainly made out of polycarbonate which is a very light-weight and durable material. The solar cells are neatly integrated. Inside, the driver enjoys a panoramic roof and fresh air thanks to a moss-based filter integrated into the dashboard. I hope it works as good as it looks. Oh, and you don’t have to water it, it gets its water from the passing air. Dope!
It doesn’t stop there. A less visible but certainly not less meaningful feature is the bidirectional car charger. Not only can you charge the Sion via an electric plug, the car can also be the plug. Charge another car, run your household equipment, or provide reserve power to the grid. It’s all possible: the Sion is a power station on wheels! You can control it all via the GoSono app. Which also happens to offer a ridesharing and carsharing feature. Very neat.
Now if there is one thing I am not convinced about, then it is Sion’s maintenance system. Sono will be selling spare parts from its webshop, and with the help of step-by-step videos, the owner can repair his or her own car. Yeah right. This idea is cool in theory, but for Fairphone this model proved more difficult than anticipated. If repairing your own phone is already too much for the average consumer, what about your car? Alternatively, Sono says you could go to an independent car repair shop who should be able to do it for you with the help of the open source car plans. I am just not entirely sure this will work out.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be writing about Sono’s car if I didn’t believe there is a lot of potential here. It’s absolutely stunning what this small group of people has realized in such a short amount of time. But then again, building a prototype car is easy, building some test-drive cars doable, and manufacturing a car in large numbers… well, that’s an entirely different story. Just ask Elon Musk. But I wish Sono all the luck in the world!