Munich The solar cells extend over the entire car – over the roof, the door, the tailgate and the fender. Sono Motors has installed a total of 456 half-cells in the prototype of the Sion. They are designed to give the extraordinary electric car additional energy when parking, without the need to connect a cable. On average, the sun provides energy for 112 kilometers a week, Sono has calculated. If the sun shines strongly, it is even 245 kilometers.
“Driven by the sun” – this is how the Munich-based company promotes the model. This is not entirely true: because the five-door is also additionally charged via a cable that feeds household electricity into an LFP battery. But at least: smaller trips for shopping or the trips of “mini commuters”, as Sono Motors calls some example customers, are possible by sun. “The demand is very good,” says founder Laurin Hahn. The annual report shows more than 30,000 pre-orders.
An amazing success. Because the start-up from Munich was facing financial difficulties several times. But with inventiveness, creativity and luck, the founders Hahn, Jona Christians and Navina Pernsteiner, who left in autumn 2020, managed again and again to open up new sources of money. “What they have achieved is incredible,” says Karl-Thomas Neumann, former Opel CEO and start-up investor, praising their “perseverance”.
Sono Motors has sometimes taken unusual paths for financing: with several campaigns, Sono Motors recently raised a total of more than 60 million euros in crowdfunding. Only a few blockchain projects and the video game Star Citizen have brought more in this way. “We had no other choice,” says Hahn, “in Germany there is simply hardly any financing for hardware tech companies.“
After the successful crowdfunding, several venture capitalists had invested a further 45 million euros in Sono in 2020. The IPO on the Nasdaq in autumn 2021 added another 142 million euros to the company’s treasury.
Sono makes high losses – and hardly any sales
However, the losses that Sono is currently incurring are high. In the first three months of 2022 alone, the loss amounted to 25.5 million euros – with a turnover of 20,000 euros, which was mainly generated by the licensing of solar technology. According to the quarterly report, Sono currently still has a cash reserve of around 103 million euros.
In autumn 2021, Sono Motors went public on the US stock exchange Nasdaq. Because of the corona pandemic, founder Laurin Hahn rang the stock market bell in Munich – via video link to New York.
This is not enough for a start of production. Actually, the Sion should come off the assembly line at the end of 2019. Since then, Sono Motors has raised the targeted sales price from 16,000 euros to 29,900 euros. The specifications have been adapted several times.
But the situation on the market has also changed, because certain components have become more expensive. Sono’s partners include, among others, the suppliers Thyssen-Krupp and Bertrand.
The headwinds are also noticeable on the stock market: since the IPO, the share price has fallen by 84 percent to 2.82 euros – of the two billion dollars that Sono was worth at the IPO, the valuation has fallen to the current $ 238 million. Investors are apparently wondering whether Sono will be able to hold out until the start of series production at the end of 2023.
According to the company, this will require a further 275 million euros. But the poor stock market situation makes it difficult for Sono to start a real capital increase. In order to raise the necessary financial resources, the start-up is taking unusual ways of financing.
A so-called “at-the-market program” was recently set up with Berenberg Bank. Over the next two years, Sono will be able to bring shares with a total value of up to $ 150 million to the market.
However, only 20 percent of the average trading volume of the last ten days may be issued for this purpose, so currently only 80,000 shares per day. Sono could thus achieve over 200 “mini capital increases” in the coming years. This is likely to further depress the share price, analysts fear.
Sion is to be built at Valmet in Sweden
For industry expert Neumann, it is far from clear that the financing for the start-up of production has been secured. “With all the success in respect – this will be a difficult undertaking.“
The car expert speaks from his own experience: just a few years ago, Neumann had himself participated in the start-up ACM, which wanted to build an inexpensive electric car, especially for emerging countries. Contract manufacturer Magna was supposed to build it – but then there was no more money, the company went bankrupt. “This is a sad thing: such ideas cannot be realized in Germany,” says Neumann.
Sono tries it anyway and focuses on maximum efficiency. The start-up focuses on a model that is also delivered in only one color: black. Actually, the Sion was supposed to be built by the Chinese Evergrande group in a former Saab factory in Sweden. The partner got into a financial predicament.
Meanwhile, Sono relies on the Finnish contract manufacturer Valmet. The Finns are already building, among other things, the Mercedes GLC. It is currently planned that production will start in the second half of 2023. In Uusikaupunki, Finland, 43,000 vehicles are to roll off the assembly line.
Simple, barren and green: the electric car from Sono Motors is without great luxury, the moss strip is more design than air filter.
According to the company, by March, 17,000 people had placed a pre-order for the “affordable and sustainable” electric car – and paid an average of 2310 euros, which has brought Sono more than 41 million euros so far. If everyone uses their purchase option, the value of the reservations is 368 million euros. In addition, there are 15,250 pre-orders from commercial customers, but without a deposit.
Sono sells its solar technology for a license
In addition to the pure sale of cars, Sono also wants to monetize the solar technology used. “Sonos solar integration is lighter, cheaper and more flexible than other offerings,” wrote analyst Michael Filatov of Berenberg Bank.
The solar cells are integrated into a polymer matrix of the body in seven layers by injection molding. Unlike conventional solar cells, no glass is used, the panels therefore have a high resistance and are shatterproof.
456 half-cells are distributed on the Sono electric car – and integrated into the body by injection molding.
Sono wants to sell the technology to other companies for a license. So far, the start-up has signed cooperations with 18 companies such as MAN or the Münchener Verkehrsgesellschaft. Most recently, the French refrigerated vehicle specialist Chereau has announced that it will equip its vehicles and trailers with Sono solar technology in the future. Up to 8475 liters of diesel per year could be saved with each trailer, the start-up promises.
Sono founder Hahn is therefore certain: “In five years, solar will be a matter of course in many electric cars,” says the founder. “For this, the idea is too convenient, inexpensive and sustainable.“