Given how many things the sun powers, it’s surprising that cars haven’t become one of the more common things to run on the most incredible renewable resource available.
Come 2022, Sono Motors, a Munich based company, will let you power your car with the sun.
Sono’s founders dreamed up a new car concept that can drive further without a charge and it’s built of materials that can withstand the everyday use of driving a vehicle, at a price more people can afford.
“What is the perfect car to overcome the typical electric car hurdles?” CEO and co-founder of Sono Motors Laurin Hahn told Solar Magazine. “The idea of an electric car with solar popped in our minds. It’s so simple and so obvious, but no one has done it. Why isn’t everyone doing it?”
Sono Motors only offers one model, the Sion, available for preorder now and shipping in Europe in late 2022. They hope to expand to the United States in the future.
The car can drive 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, without a charge, but it will charge itself through the power of the sun while in transit during the day.
The Difference Is in the Glass
The difference between what Sono created compared to conventional photovoltaic for residential applications or on a solar farm lies in the glass used for the solar panels. Typically, solar panels are completely flat, but a car needs curves and protection.
“The glass used for traditional solar or even the Toyota Prius option with a solar roof is it is super heavy—extremely heavy—glass that can’t be everywhere,” Head of R&D Solar Integration Mathieu Baudrit at Sono Motors said. “With that type of glass, you’d only be able to put it on the roof. If you put it on the door, just imagine, you could break the glass quite easily and need to change it quite often. It’s not a very good business model for us or the customer.”
The type of panels you see on houses are super heavy with an aluminum frame and require mechanical support. They are also made to be cheap and mass-produced, and since it’s cost-optimized, they rarely are made to look nice and integrated into the design.
The glass is curved on the Sion to give the vehicle a sleek look of a luxury car. Instead of paint, the entire Sion is made of 248 solar cells to produce energy to help the car drive further than its other energy-efficient competitors. The cells of the solar body panel are embedded in polymer rather than glass, which cuts down the weight by at least 20 percent compared to metal body car parts.
“The glass is super lightweight, and we have a second advance patent pending on the shape of the photovoltaic,” Hahn said. “We wanted it to look like a car, not a shoebox. It’s important for people, even if the car is photovoltaic no one will buy if it does not look good.”
To the average customer, the differences of Sono’s car and another eclectic vehicle are subtle, solar integration, Sono’s push for car sharing, and the affordable price—“all of that is not seen on the market yet,” according to Hahn.
Hahn’s goal is for the patent-pending technology to help expand renewable energy into other sectors of transportation.
“Think about trucks, trains, planes, whatever you have a shaped surface we can put solar on it at almost the same price point,” Hahn said.
Sono Motors Starts Its Engine
When Hahn and co-founder Jona Christians started Sono Motors, they worked out of a family garage that measured approximately four by four meters. According to Hahn, the car barely fit into the garage.
“Jona and I were on a call talking about how do we stop relying on fossil fuels,” Hahn said. “We have to do something and take matters in our hands.”
They started with their first vehicle in the garage, and the idea of a solar car was born. They discussed electronic mobility and the hurdle of infrastructure, range, and price. Now, about 400 people are working on the project, with approximately 120 working directly for Sono Motors.
Those 400 people are working to fill the current 12,500 in pre-orders from customers eager to drive a fully solar-powered car. Customers need to either down pay at least 500 Euros but can pay the full price of 25,000 Euros, or about $29,000. A couple of hundred customers have already paid the total 25,000 Euros one and half years before release, “showing people truly love the product,” said Hahn.
Approximately 4.8 million battery electric vehicles were used globally in 2019. Tesla's Model 3 ranked as the best selling electric car.
The standard 2020 Tesla Model 3 costs $33,000 and can drive 250 miles; the long-range model costs $42,00 and can travel 322 miles. The top-of-the-line costs at least $50,000. So while it can travel further, you’ll need to pay more and be sure to find a charging station on the way.
There’s Only One
If you’re looking for endless options, Sono Motors isn’t right for you. Sono offers one car model, in one color—black. Sono wants to encourage car sharing throughout Europe, and the idea is the car will be easy to drive for users because every model is the same.
Offering just one type of vehicle also cuts down on production costs, allowing Sonos to offer its product at a more affordable price. While options are limited, the perks aren’t. If you’re driving after dark, the Sion takes just 30 minutes to charge to 80 percent, allowing customers to get going quickly. The Sion also offers bidirectional charging technology, enabling users to charge lights while camping, your computer on the go, other electric cars, or even your house. You can store your Sion in the garage, but it will charge for free if you leave it outside in the sun.
Maintaining the car also comes at a low price. Sono’s goal is to create a more DIY economy, offering instructional videos and standard parts to turn drives into mechanics when the car does need to be repaired.
Sono also encourages car sharing through its app. Allowing others to use your car when you are not helps cut down on fossil fuels and helps the owner pay off the vehicle’s cost.
“We believe in a world where every car is electric and shared,” Hahn said. “We also see from the solar point of view, solar is the new black. We developed technology to put solar everywhere where you need energy.” comment↓