Interview with Jona Christians, co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors
We've been following the progress of German startup Sono Motors since the first renders of its solar cell-packing Sion electric family car appeared in 2016. With a new prototype coming later this year, we emailed CEO Jona Christians for a catch up.
The Sion EV first went up for pre-order mid-2017, powertrain and battery details were confirmed in November 2018 and pricing revised, then series design images were revealed in March of the following year. We got our first good look inside in August 2019, and the startup embarked on a successful community funding campaign toward the end of last year when financial investors were found to have very different goals to those of the company.
That brings us about up to speed with developments, so let's hear from one of the creative minds behind the Sion electric five-seater – Jona Christians, co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors.
Can you share the inspiration for the Sion, tell us more about your eco-friendly approach, and let us know where you see Sono Motors fitting into the big automotive picture?
It all started with one critical phone call in which Laurin [Hahn] and I discussed the wastefulness of oil consumption. There’s barely a resource more polarizing than oil. In spite of this, our mobility is still responsible for 61 percent of overall oil consumption – even though there are already alternatives available. We came to the conclusion, that we need to stop wasting our planet’s resources and to reduce the CO2 emissions. This is why we decided to take the matter into our own hands and bring about change.
Our vision is a world where every car on the road runs with (solar) electricity and is shared by many different users. With our holistic and innovative mobility concept, we are playing a pioneering role in the automotive industry and are not only an EV manufacturer but also a climate-friendly mobility provider.
Looking at the competition, the Sion might be average in terms of maximum charging power and range. The decisive factor, however, is that the Sion is not only cheaper than its competitors, but also absolutely unique due to its combination of unique selling points – the innovative technology for solar integration, car, ride and power sharing.
In real-world terms, how much extended range can a driver expect to see from the photovoltaic panels that are seamlessly installed in the roof, doors, hood and rear of the Sion? Will the vehicle need to sit in direct sunlight for hours and hours to achieve the previously quoted estimate of 34 km (21 mi) per day, and what about less than ideal conditions? Has independent testing been undertaken, and if so, what were the results?
Our goal is to develop a car that can cover short distances on a daily basis fully self sufficient. For the German market, where the average commuting distance is 17 km (10.5 mi), this is ideal.
To enable CO2-neutral mobility even on cloudy days, we use monocrystalline silicon cells for our solar integration that can produce energy even under cloudy sky conditions. In total, an additional range of up to 5,800 km (3,600 mi) per year can be generated. This value is based on meteorological data from Europe.
We are constantly testing our viSono-system together with our partners, and in our office in Munich of course. In addition to that, we are in contact with independent homologation and certification institutes to evaluate the long-term durability, reliability, and performance of our vehicle-integrated solar technology.
Have the key performance specs expectations changed since last year? And can you share any more about the technology and specs?
There haven’t been any changes in the key performance specs since last year. The Sion will have a range of 255 km (159 mi) according to WLTP standard and a 120-kW motor with front-wheel drive for 270 Nm (199 lb.ft) of torque. It will support fast charging (up to 80 percent in 30 minutes), speed up from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in under 9 seconds and reach a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph).
For the development of the three-phase synchronous motor we are cooperating with Continental, the world’s second largest automotive supplier.
The battery will be located in the underbody, where it’s perfectly protected by our aluminum space frame. It’ll have a liquid temperature control and can be actively cooled and heated via an integrated base plate.
Since we aim to develop a family-friendly car, safety is of course extremely important to us. At the same time, we want to make the Sion available for the masses. Thus we are focusing on creating a spacious interior more intensively, than on integrating high tech features.
The Sion will therefore be equipped with ABS, ESP and all essential safety features, but it will not be ready for autonomy when entering the market in 2022. It will have an ample trunk and even a small frunk, in which the charging cable can be stored.
Are you still aiming for a minimalist cabin? And can you tell us more about the natural air filtration system?
Indeed, the interior design will be sleek and focused on the essentials. The infotainment will mainly be touch-input controlled. There will be a couple of physical buttons here and there for non-infotainment controls, but in a general sense it'll be very minimalistic. Also the instrument cluster will be digital. The sound system will be a basic sound system with 4 x 25 W. Digital voice assist is not planned at the moment.
Our natural air filter system breSono is a design highlight. We’ve integrated island moss into the dashboard and center console to complement the artificial air filter. breSono continuously improves the interior air quality while having a positive influence on the car’s interior humidity.
When testing the efficiency of the moss, we found that it filters up to 20 percent of particulate matter out of the air. Since the moss no longer has an enzymatic reaction when in this condition, you don’t even need to take any special care of it. The moss is also easy to replace during a regular filter change.
We’ve tested the moss over a period of several years and couldn’t find any noticeable changes. The color of the island moss stays highly consistent and retains its natural appearance throughout the years. Thanks to a special bleaching process, water is extracted and the microstructure that acts as a filter and controls humidity remains intact. This process also protects the moss against discoloration from external influences such as mold.
In essence, breSono has the same properties as a sponge that controls humidity in that it either extracts it from the air or adds it to the air. The moss has been specially treated so that it’s no longer a living thing. Despite this, it still maintains its positive features for filtering out particulate matter and regulating humidity.
It works in connection with the ordinary air filter and should be replaced at the same time the filter is (every two years). It’s integrated into the console like a drawer system and can be simply taken out and disposed of.
Can you tell us more about making the vehicle available for ride sharing? What other smart features do you have planned?
We offer a variety of smart services with the Sion, combining innovative mobility with sustainability.
The goSono app brings together three important aspects of the Sion: powerSharing, rideSharing and carSharing. You can use your phone to provide other people with electricity, to share a ride or even the Sion itself. For the latter, you use the app to decide how long you’d like to rent out your Sion for.
Other app users will then be able to send you a request and, if you accept it, book your car and unlock it – something made possible through an innovative keyless-entry-concept.
The data connections of our vehicle as well as the automatic emergency call service eCall are controlled by the Connectivity Control Unit (CCU) from Bosch. Further features have not been released yet, but we will keep you up to date.
Can you let us have a production window and expected price update?
We plan to produce the first vehicles by the end of 2021 and start delivery at the beginning of 2022. Once the production is running smoothly, we plan to produce up to 43,000 cars a year. This amounts in total to a production volume of 260,000 vehicles within a period of eight years. There is no price update, the Sion will cost €25,500 (about US$28,750) including the battery pack.
And that's about it for now. The next pre-production prototype is estimated to launch and begin testing in September, though the current COVID-19 pandemic could lead to delays. We'll bring you more news as it happens.
Source: Sono Motors