A couple of weeks ago, Sono Motors released the production design of its Sion solar/electric car. While the solar panels don’t do much to differentiate it from other cars, it does have some features that make it an interesting competitor in the EV marketplace. From the ground up, it’s designed to be the “Swiss Army Knife” of electric vehicles.
As an electric vehicle, it’s very similar to a 2018 Nissan LEAF. It’s a 5 seat hatchback. It has a 35 kWh, 400 volt battery pack. Power is 120 kW, which is slightly higher than the non-plus LEAF, and has slightly less torque. Range is estimated to be around 150 miles, just like a LEAF. The only major difference is that the Sion is rear-wheel drive, with the motor and gear reducer situated in the rear of the vehicle. While this will probably make significant differences in driving dynamics, it won’t make much of a practical difference for most drivers.
Charging is pretty standard for the European market. The car has a 50 kW CCS plug, as well as 11 kW type 2 AC charging. Charging on DCFC should take around 30 minutes to get back to 80%, while AC charging can be as fast as 4–5 hours.
Like the old Ford Model T, the Sion is available in any color you want — as long as that color is black. To keep costs down for this potentially mass-market EV, the company decided to go with one color only. After polling preorder customers, they chose black. It’s probably a good choice, as it keeps the solar panels from sticking out too much. (There’s more about the topic of paint in CleanTechnica‘s 2018 interview with Sono Motors co-founder and CEO Laurin Hahn, video below.)
Solar Charging (viSono)
While the vehicle is pretty standard for a lower-end EV, it’s the extras that really make the Sion stand out.
The biggest, and most visible feature is the integrated solar charging. Every flat surface of the car is covered in solar cells. The car has three sunroofs, all covered mostly in solar cells. The hood, the doors, and the back hatch also all have solar cells built into the surface. Under good conditions, the car can pick up about 19 miles per day of charging in the sun. In good light, ideal output is 1.2 kW, or pretty close to US level 1 charging.
Nothing special has to be done to start the charging, because it charges whenever there’s solar energy hitting the cells. Direct sunlight is best, but the cells will still produce some energy in shade or on cloudy days. The system continues to charge the vehicle whether it is parked or in motion, so it can act like a very mild range extender during longer drives.
Bidirectional Charging (biSono)
Under the charge door (positioned in the middle of the front nose of the car, like a Nissan LEAF), the Sion has two extra ports other than the CCS plug. One is a standard European 220V household outlet to run nearly any appliance from the vehicle’s battery. This could be useful for camping, emergencies, or, as was done in one demonstration video, making coffee at an event.
Next to that, it has another 11 kW type 2 output plug. This can be used to charge other electric vehicles, or potentially for powering one’s home with an adaptor. This way, the vehicle could be use to “rescue” stranded EVs, provide backup power during outages, or do anything else you want to do with the power.
Moss Air Filtration (breSono)
Inside the dash and center console, the Sion comes with a special air filtration system. When it draws air in from the front cowl, it first goes through a standard paper air filter like any vehicle. Next, it goes through the green moss for additional filtration. While it looks like living moss, Sono’s website says that they render the moss inert before shipping, and thus the moss is not alive, nor can it die and rot. It does, however, still somehow filter out finer particles.
Built-In Towing Capability
The Sion comes from the factory with a towbar installed. It’s rated for up to about 1500 lb. While vehicles in the United States and many other places can have aftermarket hitches installed to tow, European regulations are stricter and require the vehicle to be factory rated for towing in most cases. The Sion comes with this designed from the get-go, so European customers will be able to use that capability.
Innovative Software Included
The Sion is designed to enable several types of sharing, with the features built right into both the car and the app. They call these features powerSharing, rideSharing, and carSharing. In one video, a company representative said the company is more of a movement than a company. Sion preorder customers and others all indicated that they wanted to have features where owners could help each other out.
PowerSharing is designed to allow others to use your car’s power, but only with your permission and control. Using their Sono app, the prospective power user can request access to the power ports for your vehicle. You can approve or deny the request, and you can set a price for the power. This allows any Sion to be both a vehicle and a mobile charging station for other cars, or for any other need for electricity one may have.
RideSharing is exactly what it sounds like. Owners and non-owners alike can request a ride or allow others to join them on their journeys. The app will be designed to give the car’s owner control over the trip and help coordinate things to be painless and seamless for all involved.
CarSharing allows others to request use of the vehicle. The owner decides when her or his car will be available, and for how long. They set the fee, and allow other users to send booking requests. Once the journey is over and the car placed back, the fees are automatically placed in the owner’s account.
Open Repair and Service (reSono)
Unlike most other manufacturers, Sono will release the full shop manual to any who want it, for free. The owner can do the repairs themselves, or they can ask their preferred mechanic to download a free copy of the shop manual. Sono seems to want to be as DIY and shop friendly as possible to keep maintenance and repairs as cheap as possible.
Even more unusually, Sono is going to provide 3D printing files for many of the car’s components. Instead of having to go to a Sono dealer for the parts when repair is needed, many other companies will be selling the parts. The owner or their preferred repair facility can even make replacement parts on-site with the right additive manufacturing equipment.
Currently, the car is available for preorder for most European customers. They can simply go to the SonoMotors website and put in their preorder. Delivery from the factory will be free, but fees will apply for people wanting the car shipped elsewhere.
Anybody in any country can preorder the car, though. The company does plan to sell the car outside of Europe, but does not have a definite timeframe set. Presumably, the connectors for cars in other markets will be different to best fit the market in question, but I’m waiting to hear back from Sono on that.
The Sion appears to be a fairly normal electric vehicle, but with a number of features that set it apart from the competition. Solar charging might appear to be a gimmick at first glance, but could enable solar-powered driving for those only going a short distance. Sharing features make the vehicle’s features available to everybody, whether they own a Sion or not. This could give them an advantage as a form of word-of-mouth advertising as they enter new markets.
This is a vehicle we will definitely need to keep an eye on as it rolls out and enters more markets.
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