Solar-Powered Electric Car Gets a Sleek Redesign Ahead of Launch

Sono Motors has given its solar-powered electric car a big redesign. The Munich-based firm announced on Monday a sleeker version of the Sion, its upcoming vehicle that it claims will be the first mass-produced vehicle with solar integration. The final version is larger, wider and longer than its previous iteration, and its iconic panels blend more seamlessly into the body.

“After unveiling our first prototype in summer 2017, we continued to develop our solar integration technology, which we have been working on since 2016,” Mathieu Baudrit, head of research and development for solar integration at Sono Motors, said in a statement. “The production vehicle will feature full-surface integrated solar cells that are embedded in hard-wearing, resilient polymer and that contribute to the vehicle’s design aesthetic thanks to optimized color matching.”

It could be the first time that an electric car firm makes a decisive move into using solar to top up the car. Tesla CEO Elon Musk dismissed the idea in July 2017, explaining that cars are often inside and adding panels would be “not that helpful.” Karma Automotive’s Revo, a $130,000 luxury hybrid, can eke out an extra mile and half of range. Toyota claims its solar roof for the Prius plug-in hybrid improves efficiency by 10 percent. Beyond these small efforts, automakers have shunned the idea of mixing solar and cars.

Sono Motors could demonstrate the benefits. It plans to send the Sion into production later this year, with the first version costing €25,000 ($28,351). For that figure, buyers receive a five-seat, five-door car with 158 miles of range according to WLTP measuring standards. The solar panels provide 21 miles of range per day, which Sono notes is more than the 10 miles per day the average German commutes.

The Sion on the road.
The Sion on the road.

Of course, the collected range varies based on the conditions. Here’s how the amount of kilometers collected per day varies depending on the weather:

The Sion's solar range over time.
The Sion's solar range over time.

On the power side, Sion contains a number of features ideal for commuters. The solar cells use monocrystalline silicon cells designed to collect power in as many conditions as possible, generating up to 1.2 kilowatts at its peak. The internal battery has 35 kilowatt-hours of storage, about half that of the 62 kilowatt-hours found in the mid-range Tesla Model 3, but enough to get moving during a working day. Sono plans to offer a monthly rental system for the battery as an alternative to buying outright, similar to the system offered by the Renault Zoe.

The Sion from the rear.
The Sion from the rear.

The Sion also offers bi-directional charging. A normal household plug can power electronic devices up to 3.7 kilowatts, a figure that jumps to 11 kilowatts when paired with a Type 2 plug. That’s enough to get another electric car on the move. Charging the battery itself is done via the CCS charging port with up to 50 kilowatts of DC power.

Two Sions power-sharing.
Two Sions power-sharing.

Beyond solar, the Sion packs a number of exotic features. It has a moss-based air filtration system, situated next to the 10-inch dashboard touchscreen, that the company claims can filter up to 20 percent particulate matter from the air, requiring no user intervention while giving the dashboard a unique addition. The car also supports an app designed for car and power sharing: users can set prices to charge others for using their car’s electricity, or they can offer to share the car with other people.

The Sion from the side.
The Sion from the side.

Performance-wise, the Sono is unlikely to set anyone’s heart racing. Its top speed of 87 mph is just about enough for highways, and it goes from 0 to 60 mph in around nine seconds. Its three-phase synchronous motor offers up to 120 kilowatts of power and 290 Newton-meters of torque.

The Sion from the front.
The Sion from the front.

The whole vehicle weighs 3,086 pounds unladen and ready to drive, supporting a maximum authorized mass of 4,299 pounds. It also offers a tow bar with nose load of 110 pounds and maximum carrying capacity of 1,654 pounds unbraked. With a length of just over 14 feet, a width of six feet 10 inches, and a height of five feet five inches, the Sion is a decidedly compact breed of electric car.

The Sion from the rear.
The Sion from the rear.

The company has taken around 9,500 pre-orders ahead of launch. These cars will be shipped to the German city of Bremerhaven, with Sono foreseeing a delivery charge for shipments to other parts of Europe. Reservation holders are being invited to community votes to finalize the details of the upcoming car.

The Sion from the other side.
The Sion from the other side.

For Sono, the future looks sunny.

Media via Sono, Sion