The New Sion Electric Vehicle Is Worth Waiting For

Global automakers are finally catching on to the electric vehicle trend, but nimble startups can still get the drop on the big guys. That seems to be the case with Germany’s Sono Motors. The company practices an ear-to-the-ground business model and one result, among others, is the stunning new Sion crossover SUV with built-in solar panels. And moss!

The Solar Powered Electric Vehicle Of The Future Is Almost Here

Sono has brought exactly one Sion pre-production electric vehicle over to the US on a publicity tour in advance of a production run anticipated later next year, and CleanTechnica was invited along for the New York City leg.

A software upgrade interfered with a planned drive around the city streets, but I did get a chance to sit behind the wheel and get a good look at the interior as well as the outside, so here are my impressions: Wow, wow, and wow.

Inside, the only decorative touch is a narrow strip of bright green moss running across the lower dashboard on the passenger side. It’s an eye-catching contrast with the black and gray palette. If you have any thoughts about the use of moss as an aesthetic accent in a car, drop us a note in the comment thread (spoiler alert: it’s part of the climate control system).

Some EV makers are big on snazzy, customizable interior lighting and elaborate display panels, but Sono has gone off in a totally different direction with the Sion. The clean, businesslike lines of the interior reflect the company’s attention to the fleet management market, while also appealing to individual drivers who are looking for a stylish yet practical and relatively affordable crossover SUV that stands out in a crowd. There is plenty of rear cargo space behind the matte black exterior and unique, angular silhouette.

Sono is currently aiming for a pre-tax, pre-subsidy price point of €29,000, making it a pretty good deal in the US, assuming that federal and state electric vehicle benefits come into play.

Interested? Join the pre-order list, which has already topped 20,000 individual reservations along with 22,000 reservations from fleet managers.

The Electric Vehicle Advantage

The practicality angle really comes into play with the Sion’s bi-directional charging system, which is something that no conventional, gas-powered car can pull off.

An electric vehicle is essentially a giant battery on wheels. You can use the battery to go places, or you can use it to power other devices, from party lights to another electric vehicle, or even a whole house. The only hitch is that you have to recharge it somehow, which is a problem if you’re off the grid.

Sono has resolved that issue with solar panels built into the body, enabling the battery to recharge wherever you are, as long as the sun is out.

The built-in solar panels highlight the difference between gasmobiles and EVs. With conventional car ownership, you purchase a gas tank on wheels and then keep paying out cash with every refill. Charging an electric vehicle is less expensive than buying gas, and the Sion gilds the EV lily by reducing the recharging costs with free energy from the sun.

That benefit can ripple onto the household budget as a whole. Next to housing, transportation can be the single biggest expense for a US household. Piggybacking solar panels onto a car can help defray transportation costs, freeing up household resources for other things.

The built-in solar panels also make Sion into a workaround for electric vehicle drivers who would like to install rooftop solar panels on their home, but can’t due to shading, rental status, or other factors. As long as you can find a sunny spot to park a Sion, you can access solar energy.

The Fleet Vehicle Secret

The electric vehicle dustup over at the US Postal Service has drawn new attention to the important role of fleets in the EV market. The fleet angle caught the CleanTechnica eye a while ago, when it looked like the US Department of Defense could become an early adopter of electric vehicles, up to and including tanks. With its massive fleet, the agency could single-handedly support multiple auto makers.

It’s been taking a while. The Army has been experimenting with fuel cell electric vehicles since at least 2010, but it hasn’t begun drilling deeper into EV territory until recently, when it signaled an interest in battery-type EVs.

Meanwhile, big US automakers like GM and Ford are getting into the fleet EV field in a big way, having already carved out substantial ground in the commercial automotive field.

Sono has a lot of catching up to do in that market, but the company does bring its built-in solar panels to the table, and that could give it an edge.

Last month, Sono launched a suite of solar packages for trucks and buses. The company has already hooked up with the legacy firm MAN Truck & Bus, which has been thundering onto electric vehicle turf in recent years.

Sono’s new “Solar Bus Kit” has also caught the eye of the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, which will give the retrofit package a test run in cooperation with Sweden’s LLT public transportation agency.

“The objective of the project is to optimize the efficiency of the solar technology for buses in northern climates,” Sono explains. Scania and LLT also expect to assess the impact of built in solar panels on electric vehicle battery range.

For the test run, 6 Scania model Citywide K320 diesel buses in Luleå will be retrofitted with the Solar Bus Kit. In addition to fine tuning the Solar Bus Kit, the retrofit is expected to shave about 2.9 tonnes of CO2 emissions from the buses, and save LLT the cost of up to 1,100 liters of diesel per bus.

If the idea of equipping an electric vehicle with solar panels seems more Jetsons than not to you, drop us a note in the comment thread. However, keep in mind that many cars spend just a fraction of their day in motion. Most spend hours hanging out in driveways, curbside parking spots and open parking lots, soaking up the sun.

The in-motion hours for fleet vehicles will vary with the business, but there is plenty of room for low-hanging fruit such as school buses.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo by Tina Casey.


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