Sono is a German company founded in 2016 that is, as of this writing, striving to build what people like me have been wanting for years: a $25,000 EV that wants to be the opposite of certain other EVs. That would be the Sono Sion, which the company says could be sold on American shores as soon as the second half of 2023, after first hitting the market in Europe. A recent ride in a Sion prototype was convincing, and I’m rooting for Sono to get over the line, though having watched many (dozens?) of EV startups rise and fall in the past decade, it’s hard to be anything more than cautiously optimistic.
Because the Sion, on paper and in real life, is close to the ideal EV. It’s a hatchback that comfortably seats five. It has a range of 190 miles, and there are solar panels all over the outside, capable of charging the Sion’s battery enough to provide a 150-mile driving range every week, plenty for lots of city-dwellers and suburbanites. Inside, there are two small screens for the HVAC, radio, and other typical features. There are the required safety features like airbags, automatic emergency braking, and such.
Beyond that, there isn’t much more to it — quite intentionally so. As Sono’s founders explained, they approached this design in an effort to answer two fundamental questions: What does a car actually need? And how can we provide something close to the minimum? This is, notably, the opposite approach of most EV companies, which usually like to make their first car some kind of expensive and ridiculous statement vehicle, like Tesla’s original Roadster.
From the outside, what will make the biggest splash for Sono is the body covered in solar panels (even though the Sono wasn’t the first to think of that). The charging is bidirectional, too, meaning you can use the Sion to plug in power tools, in much the same way as you can do with the Ford F-150 Lightning. In the Sono, some of that power will have come from the sun.
How does this feel in person? Sono recently invited journalists for a ride in the Sion in Brooklyn, NY, myself among them. Whoopi Goldberg was also there, to do what appeared to be some kind of promotion. When it came time for my ride on an empty private lot — this Sion, a prototype, is not street legal — we went in circles amiably enough as an engineer talked to me about various features in the car. At some point, a drone flying ahead of the Sion prompted the automatic emergency braking to activate, much to the driver’s annoyance. The ride experience was unexceptional and inoffensive, like the vast majority of EVs.
The people at Sono, who have been working on this car for years, say that they have a contract manufacturer in line to build the first run of cars; they hope to make around a quarter-of-a-million Sions “within seven years.” It’s an ambitious goal, though I would happily settle for some fraction of that if they can pull off selling a $25,000 solar-powered EV in America. They’re probably the only ones actually trying.