Like flying cars or full autonomy, solar-powered electric vehicles are cool to read (and write) but never seem quite ready for the mainstream and masses. Aptera has been teasing its sun-powered, three-wheeled electric vehicle for more than a decade, and after rising like a phoenix from bankruptcy, it recently announced it will start production next year. yes ok sure
Lightyear and Sono Motors also plan to begin production of their more conventional solar-powered cars within the next year and have garnered tens of thousands of pre-orders. While the Lightyear 0 sedan and Sono Sion hatchback both have solar panels embedded in their bodies to suck up sunlight and turn it into electricity to charge the cars’ batteries, they differ dramatically in price. The Lightyear 0 starts at around $265,000 (before taxes), while the Sono Sion starts at around $25,000 excluding taxes, titles and fees – less than a tenth the price of the Lightyear 0.
While Munich-based Sono has no immediate plans to bring the Sion to the US, the company recently conducted a tour of the US to generate interest and ink for the car and ring the NASDAQ opening bell to mark its IPO to celebrate in November 2021. Whoopie Goldberg and I drove in the Sion – not together – and I spoke to Sono COO Thomas Hausch about the company’s plans and why the brand and car names are so similar for both an audio company and a defunct car brand.
Bumpy, Bondo-esque look
While I haven’t met the Lightyear 0 in person, when I see and drive the Sion it’s clear why it costs a lot less. It’s a boxy, budget five-door with 456 semi-cut solar cells integrated into the exterior, giving it a bumpy, Bondo-esque look that might not bother the green-car crowd but is likely to inspire scorn among car design aesthetes .
The solar panels generate from 70 miles (in typical weather) to 152 miles per week (in an optimal, always-sunny) environment, increasing the Sion’s range of 190 miles — enough for “complete self-sufficiency over short distances,” Sono said. Otherwise, the Sion’s liquid-cooled 54 kWh battery pack can be charged from 0% to 80% in about 35 minutes at a DC fast charging station. With a level 2 charger at 240 volts, it takes four hours to reach the same capacity.
Sion sells an 11kWh wallbox home charger with bi-directional capability that allows the car battery to serve as power storage to run a home for up to five days, according to Sono. The car can also be used for portable juice when driving in, camping or at a construction site, or even charge other electric vehicles up to 11kW.
Inside, the Sion looks and feels like an entry-level electric vehicle, but it’s surprisingly roomy. It has all the internal parts you would expect such as: B. a 10 inch dashboard screen. And something you wouldn’t: a thin dashboard compartment with a transparent cover filled with green moss. The vegetation in the dashboard is used to clean the interior air and can be replaced with a conventional air filter. But Sono PR and communications chief Christian Scheckenbach added that it’s actually just a “design element.”
The Sion is quick, too, at least with Scheckenbach at the wheel, whipping it across a Silicon Valley parking lot during a demo drive — and clipping a pesky Prius that got in the way. Scheckenbach pointed out the dashboard screen, which shows in real time how the solar panels are charging the battery under the bright California sun.
Next logical steps: USA and China
The Sion will be available in Europe in the second half of 2023 and can be purchased directly from Sono. “Our business model does not include dealers, but a service network,” said Hausch. Sono recently announced an agreement with the Europe-wide Bosch Car Service network for repair, service, maintenance and warranty work on the Sion.
The company has more than 20,000 reservations that require a minimum deposit of €500 (just over $500), and the average deposit is around €2,000 (or $2,000). The company also has more than 22,000 B2B pre-orders from fleet operators, including 12,600 Sions from Finn, a German car subscription service with offices in the US
The Sion will be launched as a left-hand drive model in 10 European markets, excluding right-hand drive countries. “It could be two years before we get to the next country,” Hausch said of expanding beyond Europe.
He added that Sono “sees the US and China as the next logical steps” and that the second vehicle in its lineup will be a crossover. “We have a C-segment crossover that we built on the same platform that is also a last-mile delivery vehicle,” said Hausch. Sono plans to produce 43,000 vehicles a year with Valmet Automotive, the same Finnish contract manufacturer that builds the Lightyear 0.
Asked about the potentially confusing names of the company and the car, Hausch said the father of co-founder and CEO Laurin Hahn is a radiologist who specializes in ultrasound “sono” from the sonography.
“Sion” comes from a graffiti on a wall in Munich that Hahn often passed. “That was before they founded the company,” says Hausch. “The founders only knew years later that there was a Scion in the USA.”
Hopefully the Sono Sion has a brighter future than Toyota’s Scion. And his solar-powered vehicle is proving to be more practical, real and operational than flying and fully autonomous cars.