German automaker Sono Motors is completing its solar-powered electric vehicle tour through the United States. At $25,000, Sion is arguably the most affordable EV on the U.S. market. While the solar EV innovation has been impressive, the talking point for many is the price.
According to the company, the five-seater hatchback will first launch in Europe with production scheduled to commence by the second half of 2023 with deliveries to customers in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany before the end of the year.
However, the tour in America which began on 10 October 2022 is to explore the demand for the EV in the United States. The first exhibition of the EV was in Greenpoint after a marketing event at Time Square. Interestingly, Whoopi Goldberg was there to evaluate the new EV prototype.
About a week later, Sion was also exhibited at Boston’s High Street Place. The tour visited five other U.S. cities. Sion was first unveiled in July at the company’s headquarters in Munich and became the world’s first passenger EV that relies partially on solar power.
Given the huge energy requirement of EVs and the limitation on the amount of energy a car-sized solar panel can generate, Sono has implemented a hybrid model where only one-third of the driving range is provided by solar while the rest of the driving range is accounted for by the battery pack.
A sneak peek of what Sion is offering
At the showcase of Sion in New York, the first thing that onlookers noticed was the dark blue 465 integrated solar half-cells covering the entire body of the vehicle—roofs, hood, doors, and fenders—which gives it a rough look. However, the company noted that those kinks will be addressed before it goes into production.
Sono estimates that on a bright day, the solar panels alone should provide enough energy to drive the vehicle through 10 miles a day or 70 miles per week. However, the Sion also comes with a 190-mile range 54 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery manufactured by the Chinese EV and battery giant BYD.
Explaining the solar panel technology, Hahn said, “We have more than 30 patents on that. That is the major difference we have with other companies that are trying to integrate solar in their EVs. Our solar technology is polymer-based while other companies use glass which is heavier, more expensive, and slower in power generation.”
Critics were quick to pick on the short driving range offered by the solar panels and questioned its inclusion in the car. However, Laurin Hahn, the co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors defended the addition saying that Sion owners will not have to charge their cars as frequently as other EVs.
Hahn also noted that charging EVs daily has been one of the pain points that EV owners had to endure. According to the co-founder, Sion users will save an equivalent of 5,000 miles driving range annually by driving Sion.
Sion’s surprisingly spacious interior
As would normally be expected from a budget car, Sion has nothing out of the usual on the inside. A peek through the glass windows and you will find an all-black polyester seat, black steering wheel, and a typical digital display like you will find on a standard EV.
The 10-inch touchscreen display has integrated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay that controls the infotainment system. Other capabilities of the touch display are climate control, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and a solar monitor app.
The app gives the user real-time information on solar power generation from the panels. Sion owners can also use the app to control power-sharing. This feature allows the owner to use the Sion’s battery to charge other EVs and electric devices.
The backseats have ample leg and headroom to accommodate someone that is 6-foot-5-inch tall. Also, the trunk has enough space to meet a family’s typical outing needs. There is a hidden compartment in the trunk for additional storage. However, it is likely that the hidden compartment would be for a spare tire.
The only stand-out feature is a strip of moss encased in plexiglass that is embedded at the front of the dashboard. Hahn said it provides “a drop of nature for an enjoyable indoor mood”.
Sono is contracting the production of the solar EV to a Finnish company Valmet Automotive, a move Hahn said will help to keep the production cost low. According to the company, Sion has attracted 42,000 reservations in Europe alone. Sono is aiming at hitting 257,000 productions by 2030.
Apart from contracting the manufacturing process, Hahn highlighted four other reasons for the low entry price of the Sion solar EV. “Sion comes in just one variant. Also, we offer direct sales online [which eliminates potential price hikes by middlemen]. Fourth, Sion has no steel stamping. Rather, it makes use of an aluminum space frame which is safe. Fifth, there is no pain job because of the exterior solar panels.”
Concerns about the reliability of solar power
While Sono has made a bold claim of 70 to 150 miles per week from its solar panels—thanks to Sion’s proprietary MCU (MPPT Central Unit)—not everyone is buying it. Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst spearheading EV research in Michigan-based Guidehouse Insights says the range claimed by Sono is debatable.
Abuelsamid argues that solar panels reach their peak energy production when the sun’s rays are hitting them at a right angle (90-degree). However, when cars are in motion it will be difficult for the panels to maintain that optimal angle of incidence with the light rays.
Other companies such as the U.S-based Aptera Motors, and Netherlands-based Lightyear are also working on solar-powered EVs. However, Sono is the only company that has made the bold step to bring its product to the general public.
Peradventure Sono fails to hit its goal with the Sion, it has the option of falling back on the production and sale of solar panels. The company provides solar solutions for commercial EVs. Their solar panels can be installed on delivery trucks, buses, and any other vehicle with ample roof space.