If the battery runs out on a new electric car when you aren’t near a power outlet–in the middle of the wilderness on a camping trip, for example–all you have to do is wait: The car is plastered with solar panels that can charge itself.
In day-to-day life in a city, if you have a short commute or just use the car for errands, you might never need to plug it in. The Sion, from a millennial-run German startup called Sono Motors, can go a little more than 18 miles a day using energy from the solar panels alone.
In Germany, where the average driver only goes about 13 miles a day, the car should almost always be able to run off the grid. “It’s enough for driving to work and getting the kids and going back home, and you don’t have to plug it in at all,” says 23-year old Jona Christians, one of the cofounders. Even on a cloudy day, when the panels produce less energy, the car should still be able to go around six miles without a charge.
It doesn’t have the range of one of the cars in the World Solar Challenge, a race that covers 1,878 miles in the Australian desert. But it’s affordable–the basic model costs around $13,000, plus the cost of renting or buying the battery–and it takes advantage of the practical facts of using a car in the city, where cars are parked outside more than 90% of the time.
“Our idea is that the car is mostly standing on the streets doing nothing,” says Christians. “We said, well, it could be helpful to produce electricity just by standing. That’s the key thing for people to realize about our concept: It’s not about driving when the sun’s shining, but generating electricity when the car is just sitting there.”
The panels cover the hood, roof, and also the sides of the car–the somewhat awkward shape is designed to maximize the sun. “Our car is a bit bigger, which makes it not sporty like a Tesla,” he says. “But that’s not our goal. We said it has to be sufficient for families and storage and to have enough room, but it’s not about velocity and being the best car.”
The simple design is meant to be easy to repair, and the company plans to offer instructional videos for drivers who want to make any fixes themselves. The car has a few unusual parts, such as an air filter made from moss, which can naturally help regulate humidity, dampen noise, and catch particles of pollution.
The startup recently raised a little more than $200,000 in a crowdfunding campaign, and is in talks with manufacturers, hoping to have models ready for test drives in mid-2017.
Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it’s interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.