How Sono Motors wants to save the solar-powered electric car with the help of customers

Dusseldorf The board members of Sono Motors are currently busy. Whether in Munich, Amsterdam or Zurich, they talk to interested parties everywhere and answer questions about the car from the Munich start-up. Even CFO Torsten Kiedel is there, which impresses people, he says. “I spoke to hundreds of people during the test drives.”

The technology and idea are actually in the foreground with the Sion: the solar cells integrated into the body, which are intended to drive the electric car thousands of kilometers a year. But these days it’s all about finances. Sono is missing 104 million euros to “bring this revolution to the streets”, as the website says.

So the CFO rolls up his sleeves and explains the rescue operation to visitors. By January 26, so many customers should order and pay for the vehicle that the money comes together. As a reward, there is a discount of ten percent on the purchase price of around 30,000 euros. “I am confident that we will achieve the goal of the campaign,” says CEO and co-founder Laurin Hahn.

The customers bear a high financial risk

Since the beginning of December, almost 44 million euros have been collected from more than 8,000 customers – mainly with YouTube videos, test drives and word of mouth. The start-up will also receive 1.4 million euros in innovation funding from the EU Commission, as Sono confirmed to the Handelsblatt.

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The company strikes a chord with the idea of ​​an affordable, solar-powered electric car. “They always stand up and have a large fan base, which they won over with their enthusiasm and authenticity,” says former Opel boss Karl-Thomas Neumann. “That impresses me.”

However, there is also criticism of the action. “The money can be gone,” says Neumann. “I wouldn’t dare to do that.” But at least, says the car expert, “it’s clear to everyone that this is the case”.

>> Also read: Emergency braking on the market for electric cars – study predicts a crash in sales

There are now around 44,000 pre-orders for the Sion, with an average deposit of 2,000 euros per car. The customers bear a great financial risk. According to CEO Hahn, the supporters’ money will only be collected when the campaign has reached the full sum of 104 million euros. But even then it is not clear whether the Sion will really one day be functional. Because the company needs a total of 210 million euros to deliver the vehicles as planned in the first quarter of 2024. “Actually, investors and banks should finance it,” says Egil Juliussen, an analyst at industry service VSI Labs.

Sono wants to close the financing gap with cash and the lending of machines and the company’s 34 patents, 28 of them for solar technology. So far, however, sales of solar technology have been manageable. Sono turned over around 200,000 euros from January to September 2022, according to the latest financial report. In the same period, the company reported an operating loss of 103 million euros.

CFO Kieder nevertheless hopes that the capital market will continue to place its trust in us: “We are having good talks with investors. They like the campaign and that we have almost 44 million euros. That gives them security.”

The stock is a better “penny stock”

By the time of the IPO in November 2021, Sono’s enterprise value had risen to the equivalent of 2.5 billion euros. But within a year, the stock had recently collapsed by 95 percent. Hahn justifies this with the generally poor stock market situation and the general crash of electric car manufacturers. Kieder also sees signs of stabilization in the price, albeit at a very low level: “The share was in the penny range, but then recovered.”

The start of series production was originally announced for 2019, but then had to be postponed several times. The Sion is now 10,000 euros more expensive than originally planned.

In recent years, Sono has faced financial failure several times. The founders Hahn, Jona Christians and Navina Pernsteiner, who left in autumn 2020, repeatedly opened up new sources of money. With several campaigns, the company collected a total of more than 60 million euros in crowdfunding, most recently in 2020 when the crowdfunding campaign by a large investor was successful at the last second.

Even if series production should start, many questions remain unanswered. Sono has not yet had a dealer network. Service and repairs should be carried out by independent workshops. Sono then wants to send the necessary spare parts by courier. This is an idea that no one in the automotive industry has yet implemented.

If the campaign fails, many of the 420 employees would have to go. Then Sono wants to concentrate solely on its solar technology. So far, the start-up has worked with numerous companies such as MAN or the Munich transport company. Their vehicles are equipped with Sono solar technology, for example to supply refrigerated trucks with electricity. “A large automobile manufacturer has signed an order and would like to jointly explore the integration of solar technology into its large-scale production,” says CEO Hahn.

Contract manufacturing in Finland

Sono Motors installed a total of 456 half-cells in the prototype of the Sion. They are intended to give the electric car additional energy while parking without having to connect a cable. With the integrated solar cells, the car could charge an average of 112 kilometers per week just from the sun, promises Sono. When the sun shines brightly, it can even be 245 kilometers.

This makes it clear: the car is not powered entirely by the sun. If you want to drive more, you have to charge the LFP battery as normal at the socket. And the electric competition has also become stronger: cars like the Toyota Prius, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the Fisker Ocean are now available with at least a solar roof.

>> Also read: The small cars are dying out: why Renault Twingo, Ford Fiesta and VW Up disappear

Despite an advertising tour in the USA, Sono is not yet established internationally. 80 percent of the pre-orders currently come from Germany, ten percent come from Switzerland and Austria, another ten percent from various European countries. The brand is not represented in the most important electric car market, China.

It is built sparingly: To start with, Sono only offers one model in one color, black. A cooperation with the Swedish electric vehicle manufacturer NEVS failed, now the Sion is to roll off the assembly line at the experienced Finnish contract manufacturer Valmet. “We save a lot of money by not building a factory from scratch,” says Sono’s brochure, in which it calculates the strategy for customers. “But we still have to buy production robots and tools that are specifically tailored for the Sion.”

Is the project successful? “It was a big shock at first,” says CFO Kiedler, “but the campaign inspires enthusiasm that spurs me on.” What’s also reassuring: If not enough money is raised by January 26, Sion can continue the campaign for 40 days extend.

Collaboration: Lukas Bay

More: Endgame for the sun car – How Sono Motors plans series production

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