Tesla Rival Has a New Way to Power Electric Vehicles

Sono Motors ties solar power to an EV, the Sion, in what it expects to be an affordable and environmentally friendly car.

Electric cars and solar energy are two fields drawing enormous funds from investors as well as interest from consumers.

Now comes Sono Motors,  (SEV)  a company tying the two technologies together into an EV, the Sion, that draws a good portion of its power from the sun.

“The customers in Europe love it and we think the customers in America will love it, too,” Sono Co-Founder and Co-CEO Laurin Hahn said at an Oct. 11 event in New York.

The Munich company is marketing the five-door hatchback in Europe and is now visiting a number of major American cities to introduce the solar-electric vehicle widely in the U.S.

The Sion is an electric car with 456 solar half-cells integrated into its body. The battery provides an estimated 190 miles (305km) of range, while the solar power is designed to add an average of 70 miles (112km) a week and as much as 150 miles a week.

Sono says the system sharply reduces the time between battery charges. And the car’s solar capabilities make it less dependent on the availability and price of electricity.

The Sion, which will retail in Europe for about $25,000, will be among the most affordable EVs in its category when it goes into production in the second half of 2023, the company said. The vehicles will be built by Valmet Automotive, the Finnish contract manufacturer.

Stock Lags but Analysts Are Optimistic

One thing that hasn’t been shining very brightly lately has been the company’s stock.

Sono Group went public last November, with the shares more than tripling from the $15 offer price to a high of $47.49 on Nov. 18. At last check, the shares were under $2.

“We believe that we will continue to incur losses and depend on external financing for the foreseeable future at least until we commence material deliveries of the Sion and the time when we significantly scale our operations, including the monetization of our solar technology,” the company said in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

At the same time, four of the five analysts covering the company rate Sono shares buy, according to Barron’s.

Dan Ives, senior research analyst at Wedbush Securities, said EVs and solar vehicles are “out of favor in this market and Sono is being caught up in that storm.”

“The company has had some positive announcements and is clearly in the right direction strategically,” Ives said.

“Now investors just want to see the execution story play out over the coming 12 to 18 months. But as part of the broader sector, it’s been under massive pressure in this white-knuckle market.”

Ives said Sono “is an innovative company and it has a unique angle on the market.”

“There’s a huge need for alternative energy, especially in Europe given what we’re seeing with new gas prices, and now it’s just about execution and production,” he said.

Challenges — and Paid Orders

Tesla  (TSLA) – Get Tesla Inc. Report dominates the ever-growing electric-vehicle space and nearly all the legacy automakers are electrifying their fleets.

And there are any number of EV startups, including rivals in the solar-powered space, such as Lightyear of the Netherlands and Aptera of San Diego.

Nevertheless, Hahn, who with a childhood friend, Jona Christians founded Sono in 2016. has a very good feeling about the Sion.

“We feel we are in a very good position because we are not an electric-vehicle company but a solar-electric-vehicle company,” Hahn said. “And we think we’re ahead of any other competitor in that space being so affordable.”

Hahn and Christians built their first electric car with solar panels, which they dubbed the Sion, in a private garage.

Now, the company has about 20,000 paid reservations and 22,000 business preorders, which add up to $435 million if all convert to sales.

Sono Motors said solar power will also make the Sion more environmentally sustainable than pure battery-electric vehicles. That’s because the car will depend less on electricity from the power grid, which includes electricity produced from coal and gas or nuclear energy.

Sono recently announced its Solar Bus Kit, a solar retrofit system for buses and trucks that permits electrical subsystems like HVAC, heating, ventilation, automatic doors, and video screens to be powered partly by solar energy.

More than 20 companies are already pilot-testing Sono Motors’ integrated solar technology – including Mitsubishi Europe and the Munich municipal bus system.

Scania, a Volkswagen  (VWAPY)  subsidiary, and LLT, a Swedish public transport authority, are Sono’s most recent customers.

Every Extra Bit of EV Energy ‘Is a Big Help’

Edward Anderson, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, said that the core idea of the solar-powered car “has some merit.”

“If everything works ideally, the company promises an extra 150 miles of range per week or 20 miles per day,” he said. “Of course, nothing ever works ideally, but even 5 miles a day would be useful.”

Anderson said the average U.S. commute is roughly 40 miles a day, meaning that the energy consumption of a car would drop by 12%.

“This doesn’t sound like much, but bear in mind that EVs do use energy, and that energy has to come from somewhere such as a power plant,” he said.

“We are facing big challenges in adding enough power generation capacity to all the EVs we plan to have on the road in the next decade. Every percentage point is a big help.”

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