Here’s How German Startup Sono Motors Hopes To Revolutionize The Entry-Level EV Market Using Moss And The Sun

Sono Motors Sion Topshot

Despite massive expansion of the mid-price and premium electric vehicle segments, building a cheap EV for Western markets still feels tougher than pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Batteries are expensive, charging stations aren’t exactly plentiful or reliable, and profit margins are slim. However, some manufacturers are answering the call. Perhaps most notably, a German company called Sono Motors seems like it may have some interesting solutions to most of these aforementioned concerns, and all packed into an entry-level electric hatchback.

Called the Sion, this EV holds no relation to Scion, so good luck totaling one of these at 100 mph and finding yourself upright on miracle status. However, like Toyota’s dearly departed Scion sub-brand, the Sion packages fresh ideas in a small, funky, upright form. Let’s delve into this upcoming electric car and find out why it’s so fascinating.

Sono Motors Sion Side

First thing’s first: Let’s start with propulsion. While the Sion won’t win many range contests, its battery pack has a refreshingly small capacity of 54 kWh and is made of cheaper lithium iron phosphate cells. Sono Motors expects a range of 190 miles (305 kilometers) on the WLTP cycle which, while not incredible, certainly isn’t bad. What’s more, the Sion feature bidirectional charging of up to 11 kW, handy for juicing up other electric cars through a Type 2 connector or powering household devices through an integrated household outlet. Peak Level 3 DC fast charging clocks in at a mere 75 kW, although ultra fast charging speeds aren’t hugely necessary when you don’t have a huge pack to fill.

Some of you already drive electric vehicles, in which case you can probably skip this part of the article. However, you might find this helpful if you’re not too familiar with the ins and outs of EVs. See, battery packs are rated in kWh, or kilowatt-hours. This is a measure of energy over time, which means that means in theory, the 54 kWh pack in the Sion can pump out 54 kW of juice for an hour. Electric vehicle charging stations are rated in kW, no h. Why? Well, time spent at a charger is largely dependent on battery pack capacity, power needed for a charge, and a vehicle’s charging curve. That last bit is rather important as EVs don’t typically maintain peak charging flow from zero charge all the way to a full charge. Now, assuming all EVs have the same charging curves is like assuming all hamburgers are the same size, but we’re working with hypothetical hamburgers here so bear with me.

Charging port

Let’s take two imaginary electric vehicles, one with a 54 kWh battery pack and one with an 81 kWh battery pack, and spawn them in an alternate dimension where charging curves don’t exist and EVs can accept maximum charging energy from empty to full. In this dimension, thermal management isn’t a concern, alligators live in the sewers of New York, and Buckingham Palace is the world’s largest Burger King. If we hook both of these imaginary EVs up to identical 75 kW charging stations, the one with the 81 kWh battery pack will take 50 percent longer to charge than the one with the 54 kWh battery pack. If we run both EVs around Swindon’s Magic Roundabout until they die, then hook the one with the small pack up to a 75 kW charging station and the one with the big pack up to a 112.5 kW charging station, they’ll charge in the same amount of time.

So what does this mean in the real world? Well, it turns out that the Sion might not take much longer to charge than a Volkswagen ID.4 Pro. Sono Motors claims charging to 80 percent can take as little as 35 minutes on a Level 3 fast charger, although Sono Motors doesn’t specify whether that’s from 10 percent remaining charge or from zero. Of course, that’s assuming you actually need to charge the Sion often.

[Editor’s Note: While I applaud Thomas breaking down kWh and kW and charging curves and all that, the concept of a smaller battery reaching 80 percent state-of-charge faster than a big battery would reach 80 percent — using the same low-output charger – should be fairly intuitive. It’s like trying to use a faucet to fill a small water bottle versus a bathtub; the bottle will be filled first, but it still won’t have much juice in it. Even if you break out a fire hose (which represents a higher kW charger) for the tub, the little bottle could get to 80 percent via the faucet before the tub hits that figure. -DT]

Sono Motors Sion Solar Layers

You may have noticed that the Sion looks a little bit funny — almost like it’s unfinished. That’s because almost every panel features embedded solar cells, a total of 456 half cells scattered about the body using polymer substrates for strength and minor impact resistance. Sono Motors says these cells can add an average of 70 miles (112 km) of range per week, or up to 152 miles under ideal conditions. So, if you drive a Sion, work five days per week, and commute fewer than 14 miles round-trip per day, you won’t have to plug into the mains overnight between most workdays. Suddenly, it seems that solar powered production cars may no longer be in the same science fiction camp as cars powered by nuclear energy or electric eels.

[Editor’s Note: I’m extremely skeptical of range estimates from solar cells. The variables are huge, and 70 miles a week is 10 miles per day, but without knowing how much direct sun they need to pull this off or at what location or whatever, I’d take these numbers with a grain of salt the size of a Rubik’s Cube. – JT]

Sono Motors Sion Front

Right, so that’s the powertrain taken care of, now what does the Sion look like? Well, solar panels aren’t inexpensive, so costs must be cut somewhere. Fortunately, Sono Motors has taken a refreshingly upfront approach to the Sion’s cheapness. There’s no privacy glass, no 800-volt architecture — there aren’t even full hubcaps on tap. You get styled steel wheels, a reasonably airy greenhouse, and not a whole lot of styling excess. It’s wonderfully honest, an innovative car masquerading as a bargain-basement econobox. Part of that’s because Sono Motors spent lots of money on tech, but part of it’s because the cool design is largely saved for the Sion’s interior. You know, the thing you have to look at and be in while you drive.

Sono Motors Sion Production Design 6 Media

The first thing you’ll notice about the Sion’s interior is the giant green bar across the dashboard. It’s not an ambient lighting feature, nor is it painted trim: it’s actually moss. Well, dead moss, but dead moss is still moss. I’m not sure if it’s eco-chic or cottagecore, all I know is that I like it very much. If I asked Rolls-Royce to make me a Phantom with a bonsai tree in the dashboard’s gallery display area, the fine people in Goodwood might look at me like I had nine nostrils before quoting me a price equivalent to the GDP of Belize. Meanwhile, Sono Motors is throwing in moss for free. We love to see it.

[Editor’s Note: How is it preserved? Is it encased in acrylic? That said, big moss fan here. Lichen, too. – JT]

As for the rest of the interior, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, but in a good way. The main air vents are a generic circular style, but that really just means that they should work well and be durable. The door cards appear to be quite simple and the center armrest looks a bit low-poly, but that’s okay. Decisions like that keep the Sion feeling honest. Plus, the stuff the driver will often interact with looks quite nice. Crisp, hoodless screens for infotainment and gauges sit perched atop the dashboard like squirrels on a fence. The full-width dash trim appears to be made of recycled materials, while semi-concealed diffused air vents should offer a soft, wafting sort of climate control. Last but not least, the seats appear slightly overstuffed and upholstered in soft, neatly-patterned cloth, a bit like granddad’s armchair. Yes, it appears that we’re looking at a comfortable, unpretentious cabin. Not a bad thing if you ask me.

overhead

So, what we have here is a gleefully basic electric car with a fairly short range and crazy solar panel technology. Is this another technological proof-of-concept with limited capabilites and a sky-high price? Absolutely not. Sono Motors has priced the Sion from just €29,900 including German VAT, or around €25,126. That’s just under $26,000 at the time of writing, right on the low end of the electric car spectrum. Hats off to the engineers who’ve made this car, that price is a seriously impressive feat to pull off. So aside from some obvious cost-cutting measures, how has Sono Motors done it? Well, because the body panels of the Sion are made of plastic, they don’t need any paint. What’s more, every single Sion will roll out of the factory looking identical to the one you see in these photos. A cheap new hatchback in a single spec, now where have I seen that before?

While reasonable pricing is a boon on its own, the Sion should also be easy to fix. Sono Motors plans on making the full workshop manual for the Sion viewable by the public, a decision with some fairly large benefits. Not only should owners be able to service the Sion in their driveway, independent workshops should have easy access to repair instructions and torque specs. What a breath of fresh air. For repairs to the solar cell body panels and high-voltage system, Sono Motors plans to partner with existing workshops, a decent plan that should be much cheaper than building out a bespoke servicing network from scratch.

Sono Motors Sion Rear

It’s worth noting that while the Sion seems crazy, it doesn’t actually appear to be vaporware. Sono Motors already has some preproduction Sion models built for development and homologation purposes, including testing in America. While it’s unlikely that the Sion will go on sale in America, it doesn’t hurt to dream. Plus, some journalists have already driven preproduction Sion models, albeit for short distances only. Still, third-party drives are fairly solid indicators that a vehicle is real. Interestingly enough, the Sion should have a link to the Porsche Boxster and Fisker Karma as production is expected to take place at Valmet Automotive in Finland. Expect production to kick off next year, with production capacity expected to reach 43,000 units in 2024. I like what I’m seeing from Sono Motors so far, so hopefully the next two years or so goes according to plan.

[Editor’s Note: I generally agree with Thomas and like a lot of what I’m seeing here conceptually, but the solar claddig brings up a lot of questions. Is it going to deal well with dings and scratches? Will it make replacement fenders and doors absurdly expensive? How clean do you need to keep it to be functional? I’d love to see an even cheaper version minus the solar cladding and with some basic plastic panels in real colors, personally. – JT]

All photos courtesy of Sono Motors GmbH

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38 Responses

  1. I like it! But I agree with Jason: I’d like a $20,000 version without the solar panels and with molded-in-color body panels more. Hell, make the body panels easily swappable, so you can change colors when you feel like it, or create a two-tone or “harlequin” version.

  2. A couple more practical considerations that I hope they are keeping in mind…

    -Super efficient HVAC system, since the car will spend most of it’s life outside and in direct sunlight. Pointless having all those solar panels just to end up using the energy to run the AC, when a regular EV could have just been parked indoors and stayed cooler.

    -Extra durable plastics both inside and out. Same reason, they are going to get a lot of exposure to sunlight and other elements…

  3. Things I learned today:
    Hypothetical hamburgers have less calories than real hamburgers. This is not stated, but implied.

    Fire hoses should not be used to fill up water bottles, but are fine for bath tubs.

    The Burger King and Sir Shake-a-lot are hanging out at Buckingham Palace. I assume this is the name of Lindsey Buckingham’s house, because the Royal Guard might have an issue with BK setting up shop at the more famous one. Also, Midnight Oil said this is not the Buckingham Palace, but how do they know?

    The interior is made from recycled mayonnaise packets, acrylic moss, and grandads recliner.

    $26,000 is as hypothetical as that hamburger. It’s the one SKU Stripper model in the Sunday paper that the dealership “just sold”, but come check out this fully loaded model for only twice as much.

    1. It does seem that our current Stranger Things-inspired 80s retro fixation along with a national bad mood is boosting interest in Blade Runner’s design sensibilities for sure.

      The future now seems less graceful, lens-flared Apple Corp and more blocky and durable with tech focused on making the most of what’s available.

      “Like any other machine, if it’s a benefit, it’s not my problem”

  4. Sorry, what was the rest of that? I’m still trying to decide if the Queen would use a standard BK uniform hat, or the little paper crown they gave kids? And with or without the hairnet?

  5. Now I’m looking forward to fake moss grain being the next interior styling trend. Anything to replace shiny black plastic please.

    Space in urban areas is getting really tight, so this does look like a right size vehicle. However, space for outdoor parking is also rapidly vanishing. I don’t think those solar panels are going to be of much use in an underground garage. Presumably they will only charge out on the road. I wonder how much range they contribute in that scenario.

  6. A few thoughts:
    1. Leave out the moss. Letting the dash get dirty and damp you can grow your own moss. And since it isn’t covered in acrylic or dead maybe a little more oxygen in the cabin like plants in your office.
    2. Has anyone done any studies about how much range is lost due to an abundance of electronic tech crap in an EV. I mean you don’t see alot of gasoline powered accessories in an ICE car. How many more miles of range with analog instruments and a sound system with just speakers and Bluetooth?
    3. As for solar cells I keep thinking just the vehicle surfaces facing up. That’s where you get the most bang and the least dents.
    4. Have they even started making flexible tile shaped solar cells? Think those ceramic tiles that come pre-assembled for your bathroom. Make then pluggable to each other like Christmas lights. You can create your own custom sized solar panel and in case of a fender bender fix the panel then plug in a new tile of solar cells. Cheaper if you only have to replace a small segment of cells.

    1. Re: 2, I think the reason most of these companies go all out is because the power budget is absolutely absurd – the 54kwh battery in this can power my entire house for a week. And this one’s small – the model 3 has an 80kwh battery, and the F-150 lightning ships with up to a 130kwh battery. Unless they start shipping them with a laundry machine in the trunk, there’s nothing they’re going to do with the accessories that’s actually going to really make a difference.

      (A little more math: 54kwh for 190mi, assume 60mph and round to 180 so it’s not much math, that’s 3 hours, for 18kw/hr for just propulsion. A 65” OLED TV draws about 100w, a PS5 draws about 200, and a nice high end amp pulls another 600 or so, for a total of 900wh for a very nice home theater setup, or about 5% as much power as the car spends propelling itself.)

    2. 1. It is simply silly.
      2. It does not make a dent. Main power drain, besides propulsion, is heating and cooling. Heat pumps luckily helps with this.
      3 and 4. How often do you crash your cars in the US? Same critique with the new aluminum body on the F150, it is hard to repair.
      95% of all cars are never crashed at all, and of the remaining 5%, most only suffer minor damage.

  7. I remember when I was like 11 or 12, I made a drawing of a “future car” that was covered in solar panels, because it made sense to me that this feature would help it charge without being plugged in. I can only assume Sono Motors has seen my childhood drawings and now I must sue them for taking my idea and not crediting me

  8. Sounds good, maybe a little too good? We know the WLTP numbers are optimistic, and I’m highly skeptical of their solar charging claims too. Makes me wonder what else is being a bit exaggerated here.

    1. 300 miles, why not 400 or 276?
      I think you may be surprised when I tell you that this car will do a weeks worth of driving for 90% of cars in Europe.

      This may not be four you (you, you or you as you Americans) but maybe that is because you drive too much?

  9. This looks neat, but still not entry-level enough. I’ll keep banging this drum until the end of my days: in the EV transition, entry-level should be inexpensive EV conversion kits for ICEs, sooner rather than later. The only reason it isn’t is that it won’t make automakers as much money as churning out entire new cars. And keeping this part of the industry a niche means it will take much longer for it to become affordable. So if automakers aren’t willing to do it, I really think governments around the world should be looking into funding research and subsidising small companies working in this field (I feel like this should be seen as a responsibility of large automakers before anyone else, but I don’t see how governments could effectively regulate this and I just don’t see automakers voluntarily undercutting their new car sales).

    I’d be more than happy to ditch the ICE in my daily driver, and I wouldn’t even need more than the original 34hp (provided the batteries don’t outweigh the ICE and range doesn’t fall below 100km with this hypothetical setup). What I’d need is for it to be inexpensive and simple.

  10. An affordable car that looks the way it does almost purely for function and intended for people who are content with honest transport. Naturally, it won’t be available in our country, where everything has to be super-sized, make a fashion statement and contain every gimmick the marketers can imagine.

  11. I like it! I have zero problems with the steel wheels and general bargain basement feel. It’s fine.Even the styling is ok-ish.
    Perhaps a little old fashioned but that’s preferable to plain UGLY(looking at you nissan leaf).

    Now lets see if they can a) build it, and b) price it low enough.

    Please update us with the moss feature because that’s screwing with my mind

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  13. ” … kilowatt-hours. This is a measure of energy over time …”

    Almost. Kilowatt-hours are actually a measure of energy, full stop. Watts (or kilowatts) measure the rate of energy over time.

    This is confusing because of the presence of the word “hour” in the unit. But there’s a reason it’s “kilowatt-hours” and NOT “kilowatts per hour”. It means kilowatts *times* hours, not kilowatts *divided by* hours. One kilowatt is actually 3.6 million joules per hour, so multiply that by 1 hour and you get … 3.6 million joules, which equals 1 kWh.

  14. This is the kind of EV I want….I don’t need big heavy EVs….make something light and simple. I don’t care about fancy tech, I just want fairly comfortable, reliable, decent-enough range and basic comfort features. Who really needs more than that?

  15. Solar panels have gotten extremely cheap relative to what they used to be. I’m planning on a 150-250W system for the custom vehicle I built in my sig, depending upon how much I can fit without adding too much mass. Might be enough for 50-100 miles range per day given the low mass and low drag of the vehicle.

    For a car that can run almost entirely off of solar, look at the recent Aptera proposed, as well as the Lightyear 1. The Lightyear 1 is especially interesting. It appears to be a commercial version of the Stella prototype built by some Dutch university students. I used to think solar panels were best left to being on a garage to charge a battery bank for your EV to plug into, but recent technological advances have altered my opinion on the subject.

    1. It’s still pretty hard to really make the math work for solar-only, but the combination of more efficient panels and solid-state batteries may at least make the idea useful. Say, 300 miles of range and 5-10 miles a day of charge. Enough to make it make sense for some even if they can’t charge at home. Even more so if they work from home and just drive a few miles a week for assorted errands and recreation.

      I think there’s a bit of a hard cap on improvement for the solar side. We’re at 22% efficiency now and 30% in the future is likely but over 40% is not. Getting over 10 miles a day will require more roof area with less Cd, like the Lightyear (whose claims are more than a little optimistic, but 15-20 miles/day is still neat).

      I actually really want to see electric RVs with deployable arrays and solid state batteries. Drive 300 miles, stay for a week, drive to the next stop. Or stop at an RV park overnight and plug in, or grab a fast charge during lunch.

  16. Skip the solar cells on vertical surfaces; they are inefficient and less than half of them will be exposed to light at any one time. It just adds unnecessary expense for marginal benefit. Heck, ditch them all for that matter.

    Otherwise, this kind of cheap and cheerful city EV really appeals to me.

  17. Kudos on the reference to “The Rehearsal”. I love basking in the awkwardness of anything Nathan Fielder and I can’t wait for the part 2 of that episode. “How To” with John Wilson was gold too.

    I will refrain from pointing out all the importance of all the numbers in this article but I’m sure I can find significance in all of them. And remember, you don’t need a license plate.

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