Sono Motors shows production-ready solar-powered car, unveils retrofit kit for buses

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Sono Motors has debuted the production design of its Sion, a battery-electric crossover that uses solar cells to generate electricity and extend range.

The Munich-based startup, which trades on the Nasdaq under SEV, pitches the Sion as “the world’s first affordable solar electric vehicle.”

At a Munich event Monday, Sono also unveiled a solar kit for diesel buses that transit services can use to supply power to subsystems such as HVAC and reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

But in the Sion, solar will help refill the batteries that power propulsion. The vehicle features 456 solar half-cells that generate enough energy to add about 70 to 150 miles per week to the range, depending on weather and driving conditions. It’s enough solar power to “enable self-sufficiency on short journeys,” the company said. The Sion’s 54-kilowatt-hour lithium iron phosphate battery has an estimated range of 189 miles.

Selling point of solar

Supplementing the vehicle with solar-generated power provides up to four times more range than found on autos with the same battery size, said Laurin Hahn, co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors.

“That’s the selling point of solar,” he told Automotive News.

The Sion’s battery has a maximum charging capacity of up to 75 kilowatts DC and 11 kW AC. Bidirectional charging enabled by the car’s solar panels allows powering of electronic devices, a home or even other electric vehicles at up to an 11-kW output.

Sono is producing a fleet of validation vehicles in Munich. The company said they would be tested in Europe and the U.S. in different climates. The testing will cover validation, homologation, crash safety and improving the solar technology and driving dynamics on test tracks and public roads.

The Sion has an estimated price of about $26,000. Sono said it had more than 19,000 reservations for the vehicle at the start of July, each with an average down payment of about $2,300. Production will start in the second half of 2023, Hahn said.

“We plan to produce 257,000 vehicles with Valmet Automotive, our contract manufacturer that produces the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLA,” Hahn said.

Sono plans to market the Sion in Europe first.

“But there’s huge potential in other markets, and we will soon disclose them,” Hahn added.

Add-on for public transport buses

The company also has its eyes on bigger vehicles. Its Solar Bus Kit is an add-on for 12-meter public transport buses such as the Mercedes-Benz Citaro and MAN Lion City.

The kit can save up to nearly 400 gallons of diesel and cut CO2 emissions by up to 4 tons per bus per year when using about 8 square meters of solar panels, according to Sono.

It “has a payback time of between three and four years, and these buses run for 10, 15, 20 years,” Hahn said.

Sono is focusing on diesel vehicles first.

“We are targeting a market of 10,000 vehicles for the next 10 years and where we see huge potential of saving fossil fuels,” Hahn said.

The company has not released pricing details for the kit.

Sono is partnering with 19 companies worldwide, including MAN Truck & Bus and refrigerator-truck maker Cherea to implement its retrofit kit on a variety of vehicles, including buses, trailers, trucks and electric transporters. It’s also partnered with logistic giant Rhenus to build a prototype last-mile delivery vehicle with solar integration.

“There’s huge potential in logistics,” Hahn said. “They need to move to zero emissions and are urgently looking for solutions. This is one of them.”


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