CleanTechnica has been covering the Sono Sion for years. We’ve interviewed company officials, covered the reveal of the car, and followed the company as it worked its way from development to production. But, now we’re sad to report that the company is in a struggle for its life as it tries to bring its take on a solar-powered vehicle to market.
The Sion Vehicle
For those unfamiliar, the Sono Sion is going to be a solar-charged EV, kind of like the Aptera. But, unlike the Aptera, it has a much more conventional hatchback shape.
The 2018 Nissan Sion EV is quite similar to the popular LEAF. It maintains a 5-seater hatchback with 35 kWh and 400-volt battery pack that yields 120 kW power and slightly less torque, while projecting an estimated range of 150 miles like its fellow electric car. The only major variance on this vehicle however is its rear-wheel drive setup, which will alter driving dynamics but ultimately have very little practical effect for most drivers.
With the 50kW CCS plug and 11kW Type 2 AC charger, refueling your car in Europe is quick and easy. Recharge to 80% on DCFC within 30 minutes or with a speedy 4-5 hour AC charge!
For the Sion, Solon Motors opted for only one color option — black. This helped in keeping production costs low and was favored by preorder customers when presented with a poll. Although this might look plain at first glance, it’s actually quite clever as to not draw attention away from the solar panels. Plus, you can learn more about their paint choice from CleanTechnica’s 2018 interview with co-founder and CEO Laurin Hahn (video here).
The Sion may be a typical low-end EV, but it’s the special features that make it shine.
The most obvious feature of the car is its integrated solar power charging system. Every available surface from the three sunroofs to the doors and hatchback have been fitted with solar cells, allowing for 19 miles or 1.2 kW worth of charge per day — equivalent to a US Level 1 charger — when conditions are optimal.
When the sun is out, you’re all set. The cells will even pick up energy in shaded areas or on cloudy days! From start to finish, your vehicle is continuously supplied with power — there’s no need for additional setup and it can act like a mild range extender during longer drives.
Sion’s 2019 estimates for the range added daily from solar are contained in this graph:
The vehicle also has bidirectional charging, which they had planned to be available via an app. If you’ve got extra juice and are willing to sell it to other drivers, you can leave it available on the app for a charging session without you having to be there. It will also have a hitch installed from the factory, with a rated 1500 pounds of towing capacity (very important for European customers).
Sono Had Trouble Attracting Investors in 2019
Later that year, we had a number of readers send us links to news that the company was in some trouble. While innovative clean technology might impress CleanTechnica readers and geeks like us everywhere, the investment community tends to be a lot more cautious.
We weren’t given any more details on what happened, but apparently the inventors and potential investors couldn’t see eye to eye. Sion said that investors might take the company apart and take the technologies away without ever building a car, but there’s a good chance that investors just thought that a solar car wasn’t worth the risk. We don’t know for sure, but either way, the company went to customers for more money instead of trying to do something different to impress investors.
Sono Survived 3 More Years & Produced A Better Production Vehicle
While a whole book could probably be written about the development process, one this is obvious: the company survived whatever problems it was having in 2019 and continued the development and testing process. Cars ended up all over the world for tests, and they decided to expand sales to the United States.
A few months ago, CleanTechnica had a chance to see one in person, with our own Tina Casey concluding that the Sion is worth waiting for.
The Company Needs More Money
As of this writing, if you visit Sono Motors’ website, you’ll find that the situation is fairly self-explanatory. To save the Sion, Sono needs to have 3,500 people pay in full for their vehicle. And, they need to accomplish this by late January. As of this writing, they’ve got about 25 days left, and they’ve gotten about 1/3 of the way there.
Another page on the company’s website explains the situation more fully:
“We failed to raise enough money. We failed to explain to investors why the Sion is truly needed and that there is a huge demand for it. To make matters worse, we are living through multiple global crises, causing most investors to avoid taking risks and look toward more mature companies. They are telling us to not build the car, to restructure the company, and to lay off 70% of our people. To refund the Community and to disregard the Sion and our reservation holders. But, for us, this simply can’t be an option. Not without giving our Community the chance to make a move. That’s why we kicked-off this campaign. We are committed to #savesion. What about you?”
Sono goes on to explain that when it reaches its campaign goal and generate enough capital, it will create a positive ripple effect. Customer investment of both money and trust in them is the cornerstone that drives this mission forward; enabling it to find new investors as well as cover all machinery, tooling, and production expenses necessary for pre-series production by 2023 with high-volume start of production following in 2024.
The company explains further that the money initially keeps the company afloat, but also proves to future investors that the company is worth investing money in when they go for full production later.
It’s worth noting that Sono isn’t the only solar vehicle company facing investor skepticism right now. Aptera, with its decidedly less conventional design, is also scrambling for every kind of investment it can get right now to reach production.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that solar vehicle technology has arrived, but whether it will become mainstream or even go into production is the big question for 2023.
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