GThe black car rolls quietly across the courtyard of a former engine factory in northeast Berlin. The vehicle itself can be seen again on a display inside. Roof, bonnet, tailgate, sides – all surfaces light up one after the other. The Sion, the name of the car from the Munich start-up Sono Motors, begins to generate its own electricity.
For months, the founders Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians were out and about with their managers in Germany to advertise their vehicle to potential customers. And to prepare for an IPO, as we can now see. Sono, one of the very few auto start-ups from Germany, wants to collect up to 184 million dollars on the Nasdaq technology exchange, and as quickly as possible.
The company, which, according to the preliminary prospectus, has burned 108 million euros since it was founded five years ago, has its back to the wall again financially. The founders have had to raise money quickly to keep things going. Among other things in a crowdfunding campaign.
This time, however, the IPO should also pave the way for the move to the market. Sono plans to mass-produce the first Sions soon. Electric cars that are almost entirely covered with solar cells: they are on the roof, hood, tailgate and on the sides.
Solarauto vom Start-up Lightyear
Sono isn’t the only company looking to produce sun-charged cars. Start-ups around the world are further developing solar cells so that they can be used as components in vehicles.
The goal: to let the car itself generate as much energy as possible. This saves the owner the cost of electricity and increases the range because the car can fill its battery while driving or when parking. At least when the sun is shining.
One model that is causing a stir in Europe and America is the prototype of the Dutch start-up Lightyear, the Lightyear One. He carries his solar panels on the roof. They cover an area of almost five square meters. According to the company, every hour in sunlight brings a range of twelve kilometers.
The car can also be charged like a normal electric car. After an hour at a fast charging station, the Lightyear One should cover a distance of 570 kilometers.
The Lightyear One is trimmed for efficiency
The maximum range of the car is even higher. In June, a prototype covered 710 kilometers on a single battery charge. The car drove at 85 km / h on a test track in North Rhine-Westphalia for almost nine hours without a refueling break. Investors seem to have been impressed. This year, Lightyear has already collected more than 90 million euros.
A commuter who commutes about 30 minutes to work, the company advertises, will hardly have to charge his vehicle. Normal electric cars don’t offer that much freedom. The Lightyear One should go into mass production in 2024 and cost 150,000 euros.
It is trimmed to be efficient from start to finish. The elongated roof and the sweeping rear should provide space for the solar cells, while the unusual covering of the rear wheels should reduce aerodynamic drag. For the designers, it was not first about aesthetics, but rather about the lowest possible power consumption.
Prius Plugin Hybrid with solar roof
The technology has long outgrown the stage of visions and start-up plans. They are even already available in production models, for example the Hyundai Ionic (1500 euros extra). Or at the largest automaker in the world: Toyota.
The Prius Plugin Hybrid can be ordered with a solar roof. The current from the cells first flows into the car’s 12-volt battery and supports everything that needs energy while driving. Excess electricity is then converted in the high-voltage storage system that drives the electric motor.
According to Toyota, the self-generated electricity should be enough for up to 1000 kilometers per year, provided the car is not parked in a garage. The manufacturer is asking for a surcharge of EUR 3,000 for the extra – if you do the math, you will notice that the electricity savings alone should not be the decisive factor in the purchase.
At current energy prices, it would take decades for the cells to pay for themselves. Since many Prius buyers also drive the car because they want to blow less exhaust fumes into the air, the solar roof could still appeal to them.
Futuristic solar vehicle from Aptera
The Sion, the Lightyear One and the Prius look – to a large extent – like ordinary cars. The model from the start-up Aptera from San Diego, on the other hand, looks futuristic: It is a two-seater with three wheels and a dolphin-shaped body. According to the manufacturer, the car has a range of 60 kilometers every day in the blazing sun. If the batteries are full, it should be able to cover 640 kilometers.
Aptera promises that anyone who lives in Western Europe and does not drive more than 30 kilometers a day never has to charge their car. In sunny US states such as California, Arizona or Nevada, this should even be possible on daily tours of 50 kilometers in length. The company plans to deliver the first cars to American customers in the coming year. Starting price: $ 25,900.
All of that sounds promising. But these are average values, determined under ideal conditions. If the sky is overcast for days, the solar vehicles have to be charged by cable like conventional electric cars. And it will also be difficult in cities where tall buildings cast a lot of shadows.
Elon Musks Cybertruck
Elon Musk, actually a fan of solar energy, therefore doubts that Sono, Lightyear and Aptera will make a breakthrough. “The worst place to install solar cells,” he said some time ago, “is in the car.” Many people, the Tesla boss explained, parked their cars in garages. In addition, vehicles only have a limited area facing the sun.
But even Musk does not seem to be able to completely escape the vision of the solar car. His Cybertruck – the mighty electric pick-up that is due to go into series production from the end of 2022 – can be supplied with solar cells on request. According to Tesla, they should bring an additional range of 25 kilometers a day.
Sono from Munich is not quite as hip as the US start-ups. The Sion has a rather plain design, the body is made of recyclable, black plastic. That makes the car much lighter, but reminds of the Trabi. Sono will only offer the vehicle in one variant and only in one color. At the start, this makes production much easier.
No guarantee for the Sono Sion
If the production does not yet fail. Because the founders from Munich chose a company as a producer whose Chinese parent company then got into severe turbulence: The Sion is to be built at National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) in Trollhättan – a subsidiary of the ailing real estate giant Evergrande. NEVS took over the factory in 2012 from the lost Swedish brand Saab.
In the prospectus, Sono points out the risks associated with the relationship with Evergrande. The parent company could “expose NEVS directly or indirectly to political and economic pressure or measures”, especially if relations with China should deteriorate.
And, as usual, a very fundamental risk is pointed out in such brochures: “There is no guarantee that NEVS will manufacture vehicles that meet our specifications and quality expectations.”
According to the prospectus, Sono does not have a replacement production in store. From 2023, the Sion should roll out of the old Saab factory. However, given the announcements made by the start-up so far, further delays cannot be ruled out.
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