Sono Motors has scuttled development of its solar-powered Sion passenger car program in a move to cut costs amid “depressed capital market conditions”.

    The German company had first revealed prototypes of the model in 2017 and 2019, and had proclaimed it the “world’s first Solar Electric Vehicle (SEV) for the masses” – that appellation applied to funding, too, with the company raising money with crowdfunding campaigns.

    Initially set to be produced by NEVS in a former Saab factory in Trollhättan, Sweden, a deal was subsequently inked with contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive to build it in Finland from the second half of 2023.

    The company later claimed it had more than 45,000 reservations and pre-orders for the Sion, over 20,000 of which were private reservations with a deposit.

    But the sun has now set on these plans, with Sono Motors announcing it will “pivot its business model” to the retrofitting and integration of its technology onto third-party vehicles.

    The announcement comes after an unsuccessful campaign, called #savesion, to find new investors. The company now intends to sell the Sion program, though it will use some of the associated patented technology in its B2B products.

    It has also announced a payback plan to reimburse reservation monies in various instalments, including a bonus, over the next two years.

    The Sion, which had also been previewed in the US, was set to cost €25,000 (A$39,340).

    It was set to use a 54kWh lithium iron phosphate battery, which could also be at least partially charged by an outer shell consisting of 456 integrated solar half-cells.

    Sono Motors claimed the solar cells could extend the estimated 305km range of the battery by an average of 112km per week.

    A wide range of standard active safety technology was set to be offered, plus 11kW AC and 75kW DC charging as well as bidirectional charging.

    In the first quarter of this year, the Sion was set to undergo winter testing in Sweden. Durability, crash and solar tests were already underway.

    The long and torturous Sion development program has come to an end, but Sono Motors says it still has petrol in the tank – or, rather, charge in the battery.

    Sono Motors already offers its solar hardware and software solutions to 23 B2B customers across Europe, Asia and the United States, with this technology being piloted across third-party cars, buses and recreational vehicles.

    It’s working as a development partner and supplier with Mitsubishi Europe and Volkswagen subsidiaries Scania and MAN, among others, and is launching a “mass-market-ready retrofit solution” for public transportation called the Solar Bus Kit in the second quarter of 2023.

    Sono Motors says the “capital-light nature” of its surviving B2B solar business will “materially” decrease the firm’s funding needs, and it’s in talks with investors to focus on a solar-only business while also securing €1.46 million (A$2.3 million) in funding in January from the EU commission for its solar technology.

    Indeed, the termination of the Sion program will free up considerable funding for the company – the program accounted for 90 per cent of Sono Motors’ funding needs for 2023.

    Approximately 300 employees will be made redundant, with chief operating officer Thomas Hausch also stepping down.

    “Even though we had to terminate our original passion project, the Sion program, shifting our entire focus to business-to-business solar solutions provides us with an opportunity to continue to create innovative products in the solar space,” said CEO and co-founder Laurin Hahn.

    The Sion has been effectively Photoshopped out of existence, with the company republishing an image of various solar-powered vehicles but with the cancelled car not present.

    It hasn’t been a good year for solar-powered cars.

    Dutch automaker Lightyear declared bankruptcy in January, just a month after it put the solar-powered 0 into production.

    William Stopford

    William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel, briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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