Sono Sion solar car project goes dark, though firm seeks to sell it

Germany’s Sono Motors announced Friday that it will “terminate its Sion passenger car program,” effective immediately, and will instead focus on its solar solutions. 

Buried within the announcement was a glimmer of hope for those who would like to see the affordable solar car make it to market: Sono intends to sell its Sion program. 

The Sono Sion was scheduled to start production in Finland in the second half of 2023, with a claimed price as low as $25,000, including EU incentives. It has been a standout idea and a potentially disruptive product from the start as it aimed to employ every body panel as a solar panel

Sono Sion electric car solar panel placement

Sono Sion electric car solar panel placement

Sono started in 2016 and raised more than $600,000 with the claim that it could bring a “family friendly car” providing up to 25 miles a day on solar power only to market for about $18,000. The Sion made its prototype debut in 2018, with a production-bound version shown a year later. The vehicle was originally due to be made in Trollhättan, Sweden. 

Through that and some innovative technology for capturing the very low-voltage charge coming from the solar cells most of the time, Sono claimed solar could bring up to 152 miles per week—adding to the estimated 190 miles from its LFP battery pack. It also configured the Sion for bidirectional charging tech and the capability for it to become a mobile home-power bank

Sono didn’t give a clear picture of entirely why it’s dropping the program so close to launch, but funding is the obvious answer. It pointed to “depressed capital market conditions” and the “resource-intensive nature of the Sion program.” The company is laying off about 300 employees as part of the decision. 

Sono Sion and solar kit for city buses

Sono Sion and solar kit for city buses

Sono has already said that its solar solutions, which include a solar retrofit kit for semis and buses, will allow it to enter the U.S., Europe, and Asia markets. Sono would have faced costly regulatory barriers in attempting to bring its passenger vehicles to those markets. Last year it took that tech on a U.S. tour focusing on fleet operators. 

“Fleet operators can benefit from integrating Sono Motors’ technology to save fuel, costs, and CO2, thereby contributing to the fight against climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” the company explained, pointing out how it already has 23 customers for the tech.

With the change, Sono announced that it is shifting to a “capital light” business model, as 90% of its funding in 2023 was related to the Sion program. 

The company made 18 vehicles as part of a series-validation program, and it says that it served as “proof that the concept of a solar electric vehicle (SEV) works.”

Sono just earlier this month announced that it has completed some crash tests of the Sion, reporting that the panels “behave as predicted” in a collision. 

Sono Sion crash test

Sono Sion crash test

Reservations have continued to roll in. Just last summer Sono reported that it had hit 20,000 reservations; on Friday it reported 45,000 reservations. Alongside that were 12,000 claimed pre-orders from car subscription firm Finn, and 9,800 “partially paid preorders” that the company had reported earlier. 

Sono isn’t the only solar-car project that has recently encountered difficulties. Netherlands-based Lightyear last month halted production of its Lightyear 0 solar EV over financial difficulties and what appears to be a bankruptcy. Lightyear claimed it would be the first production solar car in the world. Instead it’s pivoting to a new company for its Lightyear 2 follow-up. 

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