German automaker hopeful Sono Motors announced last week that it intends to assemble its solar-assisted electric car, the Sion, at the former home of Saab Automobile in Trollhättan, Sweden.
The now defunct automaker Saab nearly always could be counted on to take the unconventional—if not downright eccentric—route in design, interface, and engineering. And so some enthusiasts might find a certain satisfaction in seeing an outlier with a unique story moving into Saab’s old stomping ground.
It’s gone a different path in nearly every way. Sono Motors raised more than $600,000 of crowdfunded money on Indiegogo in 2016 for its claim that it could develop a “family friendly car” that could provide up to 25 miles of range a day purely from solar, with a 155-mile driving range (including a battery charged externally).
DON'T MISS: Production Sono Sion solar-assisted car
The price has risen appreciably from its crowdfunding campaign, when it proposed bringing it to production at about $18,000. Although in fairness, that was when the company was looking at making the battery pack a separate part of the deal. As it’s planned now, the Sion will be sold in “monospec” form, with a single model costing 25,500 euros (about $28,700).
Sono Motors claims to have more than 9,800 “partially paid preorders” for the vehicle, which will initially be for Europe only—although the company eventually plans to make it available in the U.S.
Sono Sion solar assisted electric car
In production form, the Sion will provide up to 3.7 kw of power out, via its bi-directional onboard charger, for powering worksite tools or as backup power—or for recharging other electric vehicles. With CCS (Combo) DC fast charging, it can be charged in about 30 minutes.
The Sion is a tall hatchback about the size of a Kia Soul. As it’s headed toward production, it has a liquid-cooled 35-kwh battery pack, and a claimed 155-mile range in the WLTP cycle (more optimistic than our U.S. EPA cycle).
Although the solar range claims have been reduced somewhat, Sono Motors continues to say that the Sion can gain up to 21 miles of range per day from being left out in the sun. That’s pretty much an order of magnitude greater than other carmakers have suggested they might be able to gain in actual vehicle range.
Sono Sion solar charged electric car
The Sion is covered with 330 SunPower cells that each have a claimed 24 percent efficiency and add up to a maximum generation capability of 1.21 kw. But Sono’s ideal conditions continue to look highly optimistic if not misleading, because solar cells remain fickle about the angle at which light hits them, producing a very small fraction of their potential output when the light hits at acute angles.
Elon Musk, a fan of innovative thinking about energy and new ways to configure cars—and of course a booster for solar roofs—hasn’t made any such plans for Tesla vehicles. “The least efficient place to put solar is on the car,” he said in 2017, responding to a question about when cars will be seen as energy-gathering devices.
Until now other companies have opted instead to use solar panels for supplemental purposes—to run an auxiliary climate-control fan during hot summer days, for instance, to reduce the cooling load when you get back in the car.
The company that will produce the Sion is National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), the Chinese-funded company that acquired the assets of Saab Automobile in 2012.
Sono says that production of the Sion will start in the second half of 2020. It wants to make 260,000 vehicles in eight years, reaching a rate of 43,000 vehicles per year in two production shifts at the plant, itself running on 100 percent renewable energy.