Sono Motors's Sion Is a Crowdfunded, Solar- and Battery-Powered Electric Car

German startup Sono Motors hopes to put this electric car into production in 2019.

Sono Motors

Electric car startups are nothing new, but Germany's Sono Motors has found a way to stand out from the crowd. Sono just unveiled the Sion, an electric city car powered by a combination of batteries and solar cells. That's not the only novel thing about this project, though; It's also crowdfunded. 

While Sono has managed to attract sufficient funding in this unconventional way, the project hasn't gone entirely smoothly. At the same time that it unveiled the Sion, Sono Motors announced that the start of production would be pushed back one year from the original target, to 2019. The company will initially prioritize deliveries in its home market of Germany.

The Sion features 330 solar cells embedded in its bodywork. The cells are covered with polycarbonate, which Sono claims should provide sufficient protection from damage. The cells can harvest enough sunlight for 30 kilometers (18 miles) of driving "under proper conditions," according to Sono.

The phrase "under proper conditions" is key, since it's still unclear whether solar cells attached to a car's body can really produce a substantial amount of electricity. While solar cars compete in events like the World Solar Challenge, these are purpose-built machines designed around their solar panels. The only large-scale commercial application for automotive solar panels so far are solar roofs, like the one Panasonic made for the Toyota Prius Prime.

Sion drivers will probably rely on the car's battery pack most of the time. Sono plans to offer a 14.4-kilowatt-hour version with 80 km (50 mi) of range, and a 30-kWh version with 193 km (120 mi) of range. The Sion also has the ability to discharge power back into the grid, making it a handy emergency power source, according to Sono.

One caveat to that, however: The battery pack doesn't actually come with the car. Buyers will pay €4,000 ($4,500) or a monthly lease fee for it, on top of the €16,000 ($18,000) purchase price of the car itself.

In addition to the challenges of making solar power work and selling customers on its battery-leasing scheme, Sono faces the same issues as other automotive startups: Namely, establishing a factory and learning to make cars in significant numbers, without quality issues. It's not an easy process. Just ask Coda, Fisker, or Faraday Future.