As electric power becomes more widespread, novel workarounds to minimize range anxiety are becoming more common. From fast charging to fuel cells, eking more mileage out of batteries will be crucial if electric cars are to win over devotees of gas and diesel. German company Sono Motors plans on using solar panels to solve the problem, with its compact Sion commuter.
The original Fisker Karma dipped its toe into the waters of solar charging, using a small panel in the roof to charge ancillary systems, and the new Karma Revero can draw around 1.5 mi (2.4 km) from the sun. But neither embraced the idea of solar charging like Sono, which has fitted mono-cystalline silicon cells to the roof, bonnet, boot and sides of the car. The company claims owners will get around 30 km (18.6 mi) of range from the sun over the course of an average day.
The solar cells are covered with an 8 mm (0.31 in) layer of polycarbonate, and total surface area is 7.5 square meters (80.7 square feet).
Sono says it's actually being conservative with the 30 km estimate. According to the company, it is technically possible that the car's 349 total cells, producing a peak 1,144 W at 22 percent efficiency, are enough to provide 65 km (40.4 mi) of range.
Although it might be technically possible, there are of course some rather obvious drawbacks to using solar panels to try to provide a meaningful range boost. For one, parking a car in the city means you're surrounded by buildings and shadows. You're also likely to be parked next to somebody else, which means their regular cars might block or steal your sunlight. So as noble as the concept is, we're not sure how effectively it translates to the real world.
The Sion can can be charged like a regular electric car. Urban models use a 14.4 kWh battery for a maximum range of 120 km (74 mi), and the more expensive Extender uses a 30 kWh battery for 250 km (155 mi) of silent running.
Both models can be charged to 80 percent in just half an hour, or topped up more slowly using a regular wall socket. The 50 kW motor can take the car up to 140 km/h (87 mph), which should be more than enough for most inner-city and suburban commuters.
When it's not being driven, the Sion doesn't need to just sit and do nothing. Instead, the battery can be used to power fridges and phones at campsites. According to Sono, the solar panels provide enough charge to mean running camp on the car's battery won't stop you from making it home.
Funky solar panels make the exterior of the car look a bit different, and the company uses moss - yes, moss – to do the same thing inside. According to Sono, this acts as a natural air filter, soaking up fine dust particles and regulating humidity. Meanwhile, a 10-inch touchscreen wirelessly mimics the driver's phone, handling climate control and infotainment.
Because there's no transmission tunnel running through the middle of car, there's room for a third central seat up front, making this a six-seat microbus.
The team at Sono Motors has surpassed its Indiegogo funding goal, and is now pushing to put the Sion into production. Should it see the light of day, the Urban is expected to cost around €12,000 (US$13,500), and the Extender will be worth around €16,000 ($18,000). All things being equal, deliveries will kick off in 2018 - not all that far away, considering there's no pictures of a working Sion in action yet, only renders.
You can check out the Sono pitch video below.