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Range Anxiety? What’s That? With Sono Motors Sion, It’s the EV That Recharges Itself

Sono Motors is a Bavarian startup electric car company that actually has a very good chance of making it to production being months/weeks away from making their sole solar BEV with the 7,200 orders they already have. Yes, that’s right, a BEV that has solar panels all over the car that provides a range extending 30 km or 18 miles for the 155 mile battery range a day.
Posted: September 9, 2018 - 1:52PM
Author: Al Castro

At first glance of the Sono Sion (not Scion) you would think it’s something of a Prius C that has been mutated into a rolling brocade of solar roof panels. In actuality, Sion is a battery electric vehicle in which you have the option to buy or lease the battery, because depending on how you use the car, the solar panels can act as range extenders for the battery. It’s the EV that recharges itself:

  • Sono Motors is a German start up in Bavaria by a bunch of young smart wonderkids looking to save to the world.
  • They will offer only one vehicle, the Sion, a solar BEV 4 door utility vehicle.
  • MRP: $18,500 without battery, $23,121 with, in USD with 500€ deposit required online at their website.
  • It’s about the size and shape of a Prius C, perhaps a bit larger.
  • The solar panels surround and top the car providing 18 miles of range per day.
  • Seats 5, but they’re thinking about squeezing in a third row.
  • The company’s ethos is to keep it simple: sell only one car, few options, one color, that’s it.
  • The prototypes are in either black or white. The production model will come in only one color of these two. They’ll decide with customer feedback.
  • The only options will be a trailer hitch and the battery.
  • The battery is optional because it is expensive and some customers may either choose battery leasing option or to get another battery elsewhere.
  • The battery is optional for purchase at $4,625 USD, or you can lease it in cycles starting monthly.
  • They’re not saying yet which major car company helped them.
  • Orders are worldwide but UK and Commonwealth countries: RHD not available yet.
  • An app makes the car ready to provide services with compensation for: power sharing, car sharing, or ride sharing. You can lock/unlock remotely with the app.

Sono Sion Specs:

  • 330 integrated solar cells covered in polycarbonate yields 30Km/day of extending range.
  • Battery capacity of between 35kWh and 45kWh (tbc) water cooled lithium ion
  • 80 kW (109 HP) 3-phase asynchronous motor, single speed transmission, rear wheel drive RWD.
  • Top speed 140 km/hr, 87 mph, 0-100 km/hr or 0-62 mph in 9 secs.
  • Battery Range 250Km or 155 miles, about the same as a Nissan Leaf.
  • 1 pedal operation capability with regen braking.
  • Bi-directional charging: car can be used as a power source for devices up to 2.7 kW or in an emergency. Type 2 to connect to another vehicle up to 7.6 kW.
  • Dimensions L 162” W 70” H 66” Compared to Prius C: 160” 68” 59”
  • Tow capacity 750 kg or 1650 lbs. “Tow ready”
  • Weight: 1,400 Kg or 1.4-1.6 tons depending if battery equipped.
  • Storage capacity: rear compartment 23 cu ft, folded down entire car 44 cu ft
  • A/C standard with a filtration system that uses real but now dead moss in the dashboard.
  • 10 inch infotainment screen, simple instrumentation, few if any buttons
  • Infotainment, connectivity, heated front seats
  • Charging:
  • Household socket: 13 hours
  • Type 2 Home/Destination: 80% 2.5 hours, 100% 3.5 hours
  • Rapid Charge: 80% 30 mins
  • Safety:
  • Theft alarm
  • Anti-lock brakes ABS
  • SRS Airbags driver and front passenger side curtain
  • Electronic stability and drive slip control ESC
  • Reversing camera
  • Warranty: 2 Years or 100,000 Km or 2,000 charging cycles whichever comes first.

Sono Terminology:

  • viSono: regenerating solar energy to provide 30Km of range each day.
  • biSono: bi-directional charging by using the car as a power source
  • breSono: using actual moss in the bio filtration system of the car to filter out dust particles.
  • reSono: the Sono concept that Sion is an electric car that’s easy to repair on your own to save money. Sono provides resources to help you.

Ok, now there’s reason for everyone to turn in their smog producing hybrid cars, as Sono now gives us an electric car that not only makes PHEV hybrids officially obsolete, but also gives us an EV that recharges itself with the use of the sun. It seems solar panels are becoming an electric car maker’s tool in maximizing or supplementing range if not outright replacing the gas engine portion of a hybrid system. The German camper outfitters Dethleff have been experimenting with their e.Home series with an electric camper van all covered in solar panels edge to edge that makes up and helps with the woefully deficient range.

The nifty subcompact four door hatch utility has the shape of a Prius C with the looks up front of a BMW i3. Their website says,however, that’ll change by production when they introduce LED lighting to the outer perimeter of the car. The premise of the car is to provide simple basic transportation that reduces your carbon footprint. In that simplicity, Sono tries to make the process simple to go smoothly.

Simplicity in Design and Execution and Repair

They will make only one car. It will have as few options as possible, for now only a trailer hitch and the battery are the only options available. It comes in only one color, when they make up their minds, it’ll be either black or white (the black model prototype is the one pictured here and does a better job integrating the panels than the white one). This is the part I love about this car that has me worried about the legacy car companies when they start making electric cars full swing: the Sion, Sono says, is built to last and made to last with care, and most of the repairs you can do on your own to save money. This would make sense as the mechanical build of electric cars are so simple as they’re few moving parts, and thus logic dictates, less need for repairs. Sono promises a comprehensive shop manual for troubleshooting and an expansive online parts catalogue to replace needed components for the car.

One of the things electronic companies started doing before the turn of the century when electronic appliances like stereos and TVs switched over to solid state components, was that they started making products that were built to last. Do any of you remember the Sony Betamax video recorder? Those things were industrial grade. Eventually not for long. Realizing that they were losing money doing this, they started “dumbing down” the quality so that electronics had a limited life cycle forcing you to get a new TV or stereo more often over time. I hope that the legacy car makers don’t do that with electric cars. They’ve already been accused of doing that with gas cars.

With the car dealership business model requiring a healthy amount of customers do business with the service department, I don’t see how electric cars will sustain them. This is why dealers prefer servicing hybrids. And it wouldn’t surprise me if car makers starting doing the same thing to electric cars that electronics manufacturers were accused of doing re: quality control with their products decades ago and still now. BMW for example has been accused of doing this to their cars, as a 1990’s 3 series with 200,000 miles, ready to go another 100,000 miles, is something you’ll never see happen on a late model 3 series. I like how Sono Motors incorporates the longevity of their product into their business model, which makes the basic premise that electric cars are simple in construction, simple to repair, and should last just as long.

Walk Around the Vehicle

Simplistic in its design and style, the Sion is not skimpy. It’s fully loaded with the things you should expect in a car in this segment, from infotainment to air conditioning and front heated seats. The solar panels do take some getting used to, but they add an interesting design to the exterior, and represent the efficiencies of the car. To save weight, rust proof and scratch proof polycarbonate is liberally applied in and all around the car which also holds the 330 solar cells. The roof is see-though but only around the cells. The cells give you starting gate 30 Km of range each day. It’s performance specs make it close to the Nissan Leaf in the way it behaves with things like top speed, quarter mile, 0-60, and its 155 mile optional battery range.

The prototype is a working model in progress, so eventually all the BMW i3 parts used for it will obviously be removed for the production models. In the inside, simplicity continues with a simple 10 inch infotainment display and a second screen in front of the driver for basic functions. There are few if any buttons. In the words of Sono: “For the cockpit we used a very simple design, showing you how fast you are going and the charging level of your battery. On the left side you can see the number of kilometers generated through the viSono System. After 24 hours, these kilometers will be transferred to the right side, where they are added to the total range left.”

Efficiencies go right down to the functionality of the car itself as a utility vehicle. The split rear seat folds down to double the cargo capacity. They say they’re looking into whether they can put a third row in the rear. The car sits low to the ground suggesting the battery try may have something to do with that, but Sono says to wait until the production car to determine any height clearances. No AWD, but the jist from Sono is they want to get the car into production first with what they already have, to consider options and variants down the road.

This is a subcompact but Sono assures that interior ergonomics allow tall drivers to take control with ease and comfort. The UK and her commonwealth are going to have to wait until after production starts to see if they’ll get a RHD version.

Moss in the Dash

There is one feature that is fascinating that you just don’t get to see in other cars. It looks like a combination of a piece of artwork from the dash of a Rolls Royce Phantom and a National Merit Scholarship winner’s science project that doubles as a hydroponic station for growing pot: built into the dash is a lit window display that contains some green moss. Helping with its breSono filtration and ventilation system, the moss is now dead so you don’t ever have to worry about taking care of it.

Even in its preserved state, the moss still serves as a 20% filtration of dust particles while helping in regulating cabin humidity with the air conditioner. This ironically beats the VW Beetle’s answer to the application of still life inside a vehicle by adding a flower vase stand. In the Sion, you have a horticultural display as if it were Lenin’s tomb.

Website Ordering and Delivery Prognosis

Sono says on their website that customers should start taking delivery of their cars by the end of 2019. This probably means timetable considering, that production starts a few months/weeks beforehand. Test driving this car requires interested customers go to Germany to one of Sono’s designated locations to hook up with a prototype vehicle.

Sono does not have any global apparatus for customer service as of yet. They have a world map on their site showing locations around the globe including some places marked off in the states, but I believe those will be part of the service or parts department infrastructure, but for now I see no plans for setting up a dealer network anywhere. With a one product business model a network probably isn’t necessary anyway, and one of the reasons this startup lasted this long is because they’ve been able to keep costs down and quickly get from formation to pre-production to the production phase.

Having help from “a major European car manufacturer” certainly helps that it took only 7 months to get their prototypes out, but they aren’t prepared to say who it is. With all those BMW parts inside their protos that are glaring in some of their media pictures, if someone were to put a gun to my head and say guess which car company, then yeah. But according to the Sono website, Roding Automobile GmbH is giving them a hand as they have experience helping carmakers like Sono Motors bring their products to market, as well as their own.

The founders are three Bavarian wonderkids that when you listen to their story you fall in love with them and their storyline to hope they succeed. Since 2012 Laurin Hahn, Marina Persteiner, and Jona Christians have been working in places like garages, Steve Jobs style, building a prototype to slowly see their dream materialize. The company was founded in 2016 and they’re ready to start making cars as early as mid-year 2019. These three could be my niece and nephews, tomorrow’s billionaires. I hope they pull it off.

Orders for the car are taken worldwide online, so that’s the only place where you can actually purchase the car. I assume they’ll ship a car to the states for your delivery. And if they do that then the car has to be compliant with US DOT regulations in order to legally sell the car here. After final assembly the car is shipped for free to Bremerhaven. For an additional cost they’ll ship it anywhere else you want. This arrangement sounds perfect for going to Germany on vacation to pick up your car to use it there before having it shipped to the states.

You must put at least a 500€ deposit to secure a place on the approximately 7,200 person waitlist worldwide. You’ll get email updates as to the progress of your car. This car has the potential of becoming a game changer in the already emerging EV market. Not only to offer a BEV at a $25,000 USD price point but to do so for a BEV that never again you have to worry about range anxiety with solar roof panels. Experts as well as Sono says that the voltaic capability of the solar cells has improved as it seems that there isn’t enough coverage over the car, but that may lend itself as to why the solar range is about 18 miles, which in itself is remarkable.

Another selling point is that the car is a rolling power station. Whether you’re camping or there’s a power outage from a storm, disaster, or power grid failure, you have options with this car.

The price point alone will make this car very attractive to young demographics like Millennials who now have a truly affordable option of purchasing a new car, period, let alone electric. And if the federal EV tax credit is extended, that’ll mean an electric car that be had for as little as $11,000 with fed rebates alone!

What do you think of the electric car that recharges itself? Let us know below!

EDIT NOTE 9/11/18: In the previous version of this story I wrote that the Sion battery was optional as if it was not needed to operate the car, as the panels sufficed. This was how it was explained to me. That was incorrect. You do need the battery, but its option is to give the customer the choice of leasing it instead, maybe to get a better battery pack elsewhere. The story has since been updated and corrected. My sincere apologies for the confusion.


Sean (not verified)    September 9, 2018 - 4:04PM

No way a vehicle has enough surface area to make PV panels make any difference in range. Now have them run the HVAC and/or battery conditioning system and that would help.

Frank (not verified)    September 9, 2018 - 4:04PM

People have discussed this ad nauseum. There’s not enough surface area to meaningfully charge a car. Might work to run a fan to keep the cabin cool.

Al Castro    September 10, 2018 - 2:56AM

In reply to by Frank (not verified)

I’m told the voltaic capability in solar panel technology has improved recently and acts as a good range extender as opposed to primary or supplementation. This explains the paltry 18 miles/day but if used as a local commuter errand runner or air conditioned golf cart it’s suitable.

Al Castro    September 11, 2018 - 12:36PM

In reply to by Al Castro

All you doubters and naysayers are all drag inefficient! This is precisely why I wait to see for myself to not let anyone’s skepticism naively sway me. It seems Sono Motors isn’t the only car company experimenting with solar voltaic energy with some kind of results, and we forget about the advances made in aviation with this technology! Here guys, read this:

Fox (not verified)    September 9, 2018 - 4:05PM

In the next 10-15 years, you'll see solar and aerodynamics to make this a reality. In fact, I'm trying to buy the new bill nye's solar to put on a 45 foot RV with a volt drivetrain at least on paper.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    September 10, 2018 - 12:23AM

There are definitely a lot of cool ideas in the BEV. But there are some big holes in their product descriptions. First off for us here, it does not seem to be available in America. It sounds like the German founders had designed it for Europe, and they may someday find partners for selling them here, but not now. Next the description is incorrect saying that the battery is optional. You cannot actually drive the car without a battery. The solar panels do not produce enough electricity to drive the car and unless there is a small included battery (that they are not talking about) to make the car run, the it is more likely that just that they show pricing without a battery to lower the base price of the purchase of the car, but you can either lease (price unknown) or buy one of two batteries (35KWh/45KWh). The best that I would hope for as a result of this car being produced is for the major EV automakers to use some of their innovative ideas, like transferring charge to other battery powered devices in their cars. I am still waiting for a new product like Tesla's Powerwall that connects up to a home solar installation and charges up during the day, and then you can plug/swap the charged home solar powered battery with your EVs swappable extender battery.

Al Castro    September 10, 2018 - 2:51AM

Go to their website. I don’t know the engineering but yes there has to be some storage of the solar panel charge that can even collect power in cloudy weather. The batteries are optional and the selling point of the car to make this truly affordable beyond a $35,000 Base 3 Model. That’s the whole idea behind the car. And it will be available for the US, in fact sooner than the UK due to RHD, unless you want a left hand CAR to drive in the UK, it’s up to the customer. The website says “available worldwide.” You just have to pay for shipping beyond the dock so no need for help introducing into a market, they’re only selling one product that they treat it more like an appliance. They’ve sent a mule to get level 4 crash certified. One last thing and this is conjecture: I think BMW is helping them. How else can you get a car to production when average development costs $1 billion USD and they’ve raised what? A mill or two? They’ve had to have made a deal: will help you develop a car and help you with production. We use the tech in our cars. Just sayin.

Al Castro    September 11, 2018 - 12:21PM

In reply to by Red (not verified)

Nobody said or inferred anything about BMW other than me noticing the components in the car. Regardless, this addresses the BMW issue: from Sono’s website: “In collaboration with Roding Automobile GmbH two prototypes will be developed and produced within a short amount of time. They will be based on a customized chassis that’s catered towards solar integration. Roding is renowned in the car industry regarding car development and prototype production. The company from upper Bavaria, Germany, gained wide recognition for developing their own Roadster, which is still being sold today.” Adressing the crash tests, this is DriveTribe back in August: “The Sono chaps will “submit” the SION for crash-tests later this year and aim for the 4 NCAP stars (at least).” That was the purpose of the crowd funding they raised, I’ve learned. Now that they have it, a car is being sent, or if you need precision, will be sent.

Red (not verified)    September 12, 2018 - 2:32AM

In reply to by Al Castro

Sono Motors are still in the "concept phase" according to answers from them on their Facebook page. They have not decided on front or rear wheel design or what components that will be in the production car. Roding developed the concept car but will not develop the production car, that is said to be done by the contract manufacturer - which is not yet named, no contract has been signed yet. The crowd funding was enought to make the concept cars, they are not aimed for production. It is not realistic that they have anything ready for crash tests this year.

Red (not verified)    September 10, 2018 - 7:39AM

This is a crowdfunding gone wild. They have been saying that a contract manufacturer will construct and build the cars for them. The last few weeks they have admitted that there is no such contract yet! The prototypes have the drive train and electronics taken from scrapped BMW i3's, not licensed from BMW.

Al Castro    September 10, 2018 - 10:23AM

In reply to by Red (not verified)

I don’t think $2 mill USD is funding gone wild when it takes $1 bill USD to develop a car from the ground up. And it doesn’t take a contract to use parts from any car-for testing development, they could have gotten those components from a junk yard. These are prototypes not actual customer vehicles with warranties, remember that. One more thing I just realized. At the end of a lease when they’re finished with the car, BMW likes to ship those i3s back to Munich, strip them good, then scrap them. Now suddenly these 3 kids have BMW i3 parts? C’mon, that’s convincing me more than ever. Show me how not? Somebody is helping them no doubt. We just have to be more patient than skeptical to who and what it is and what the end game is about. I still think it’s BMW with my scenario. We’ll see and I’ll let you know.

Art (not verified)    September 10, 2018 - 8:52AM

This is someone trying to get investment money using fraud.
A solar panel the size of a sedan's roof could maybe provide 200 watts..
Solar cell technology is currently stuck at about 26% efficiency and has been for many years. Every "breakthrough" has not been able to mass produce solar cells that can produce more than the 26% at a cost that is economical.
The math and the physics are just wrong.
Even if by some miracle they could produce 1kwh from their solar array, you would need 30 hours of sunlight to produce the 30kw they claim.
Just bogus...

Al Castro    September 10, 2018 - 10:15AM

In reply to by Art (not verified)

Says who? Based on what? First of all, the panels are not just on the roof, it’s on the whole car, sides, bonnet, and all. I’m not defending anyone, but it seems other manufacturers are using them and they seem happy. Here, this is from Quartz: “Sion is not the first company to try and put solar panels to work on a car. One model of the Toyota Prius Prime, available only in Japan, has solar roof panels that feed power to the battery. Audi has also been working on integrating thin-film solar cells into panoramic glass roofs. Other car companies have used solar cells to power functions like air conditioning.

“We will be the first when we launch in the mass market,” says Hahn. The company plans to produce 200,000 Sions within the next eight years. That’s an ambitious goal, considering that the Nissan Leaf, the best-selling electric vehicle on the market, just recently sold its 300,000th Leaf since launch in 2011.

One thing that has helped Sono Motors speed up development—and help keep manufacturing costs down—is using specific car parts that are already on the market, the company says. A contract manufacturer in Europe, the name of which Sono plans to reveal later this year, will produce the cars.” Something must be working. Show us what’s not.

Art (not verified)    September 11, 2018 - 2:22AM

In reply to by Al Castro

If you research it you will find that I am correct. Others have used solar cells on the roof, to run subsystems that didn't pull a lot of current, fans and such.
Solar cells on the sides are likely not to get much more than 2% efficiency if any at all.
Its fraud, designed to get a lot of money from investors, and never make a dime, except for those running the scam...

Al Castro    September 11, 2018 - 11:10AM

In reply to by Art (not verified)

Art I understand. Have you read my article on Deffleth’s e.Home solar camper? Pardon me for not coding the link, that’s the website’s software: Please clip and paste: Their panels help with range more so off grid issues even though the camper cab needs a bigger battery pack. Yes I know a camper is much bigger than a subcompact for ideal panel placement, but the point is it seems like ion batteries, the technology isn’t perfect, but has slightly improved. The panels on these kids’ car is not really meant to be the primary energy source. It’s meant to prevent running out of range for only 18 miles at best. Somebody was just locked up for GoFundMe fraud (in the news). I don’t think these kids are about that. Let’s wait and see.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    September 10, 2018 - 11:25AM

Sorry, it still looks sketchy in many ways. I cannot get past the statement that they say that the battery is optional. It cannot not run without a battery, so it cannot really be optional. They say that the integrated solar panels produce 1.2KW, and that is ambitious as only the roof and hood would be getting direct sunlight. And 18 miles of range? At what speed? Certainly not highways speeds. It says all deliveries will be made to Bremerhaven Germany, with further shipment to be arranged "worldwide". For me I will view this as a wishful European crowdfunding experiment until we see an actual car here, and until it is reliably tested and compared against production EVs.

Al Castro    September 11, 2018 - 11:19AM

In reply to by DeanMcManis (not verified)

Sorry Dean I don’t know the technology, but I’m sure there’s a way the car stores it’s voltaic solar reserves other than using a pack. They also say on the website that the car will be able to collect voltaic energy even in cloudy weather, so as long as you leave the car outside regardless of weather conditions for at least 8 hours in daylight. Don’t read in between the tech set up on their website, remember it’s laid out so that lay people understand. Perhaps that’s a question you need to email. Removeable battery packs will become a viable alternative to charging and replacing BEV batteries, and the ability to do this with this car is an advantage whether the option batteries are equipped or not.

Jason (not verified)    September 11, 2018 - 8:08AM

Elon Musk covered this in the notorious “joint” interview. Maybe if people listen to the other 2 hours and 30 minutes of a highly educational interview instead of the 10 seconds he smokes weed.

Steve (not verified)    September 11, 2018 - 8:12AM

The only way a solar car is feasible, but won't happen, is using nano PV. Years ago a University in England, i believe, found a way of basically having nano PV Cells. The idea was it could be added to anything and produce if there was light. Ideally, a car and the windows could all contain these and have X amount of electricity generated. I believe this died on the one, or is still being worked on behind closed doors, as we have not heard anything else about it.

Andreas (not verified)    September 11, 2018 - 8:13AM

A single full-size solar panel is about 300W in ideal conditions (best angle). In full sunlight for 3.3h would give you 1kWh, or about 3mi/5km of range. This isn't really practical, IMHO.

Al Castro    September 11, 2018 - 11:30AM

In this case they’re saying at least 8 hours of daylight regardless of weather conditions the car needs parked outside to get a decent 18 mi/30 km range without the batteries. I don't know what else to tell you folks other than let’s wait and see. I see a lot of skeptics here and that’s expected. I know this: A LOT of EV startups have come and gone. This company is this close to going to production in as little as 9 months. They say they have a car company helping them. Since Tesla and Workhorse Group I haven’t seen a EV startup make it this far, short of a sudden implosion. And Tesla still has the good chance of self destruction.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    September 11, 2018 - 7:53PM

18 miles driving range without batteries? As in directly driving the car off of sunlight? Please explain how that works.