Solar-car startup Sono Motors asks community for €50m after ditching investors

Jill PetzingerJill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Sono Motor's Sion prototype in the NEVS production plant, Sweden. Photo: Sono Motors
Sono Motor's Sion prototype in the NEVS production plant, Sweden. Photo: Sono Motors

German startup Sono Motors announced on Sunday night that it had parted ways with investors and launched a crowdfunding appeal to help it raise €50m (£42.6m, $55m) in the next 30 days to get its solar-powered car into production.

Munich-based Sono Motors was founded in 2016 by Laurin Hahn, Jona Christians, and Navina Pernsteiner. Its Sion electric car, which is covered with integrated solar cells on the roof, sides, and rear, promises a range of 250 kilometres (155 miles) on a fully-charged battery.

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However, the company has now run into issues with investors, announcing that “we have had the opportunity to take money, and in exchange, give up the vision. This would have been the end of the Sion and its core concept.” 

Instead, they are aiming to fund the production of the Sion with the help of community investors. It has already raised €2.5m in the first 12 hours since launching the campaign on Sunday evening, a mix of loans, donations, and full-price down payments.

“We made the decision that we have to stick to our values and make sure the Sion comes to the streets,” Sono Motors chief executive Laurin Hahn told Yahoo Finance UK, adding that their car would simply not have gotten produced if they had continued with their investment offer. The company has raised investment of €25m since its founding.

What’s next?

Hahn said he was legally not able to go into detail about what happened between the company and investors recently, apart from to say that the process of producing a new car needs a huge amount of money and that meant looking for international investors whose aims were at odds with the founders’ goal.

“Aggressive growth and quick profits are difficult to reconcile with a sustainable corporate and vehicle concept which is designed to give access to affordable and eco-friendly electro-mobility,“ Hahn said.

“When we started with this financing round, we started with German investors and it all went well,” Hahn said, but as soon as they needed a certain level of money, international investment was the way to go.

“As soon as we did that... we realised that it is not feasible to bring the Sion on the street with our values of social impact and environmental impact,” he added, saying that the company had had a “wake-up call” at this point.

Side view of Sono's Sion solar-powered e-car. Credit: Sono Motors
Side view of Sono's Sion solar-powered e-car. Credit: Sono Motors

“We could have sold the company for personal profit but the Sion would not have come to the street.” Hahn said. “We thought ‘we have 10,000 people waiting for the Sion, we can’t do this’… So in the end we took this decision knowing that what we are doing will be even tougher for the next weeks.”

Hahn and the founding team hold the majority of the company, and 64% of the profit-participation rights. The owners will continue to own the voting rights, but will transfer the remaining shares of the profits to a “community pool” so Sion reservation holders and donors will have a share of future profits.

“What we give up is our personal profit rights, because the community can save Sono right now, and whoever jumps in and helps us can get something back,” Hahn said. He added that investors who give a binding commitment now will not have to pay anything if Sono does not reach its €50m target.

He says that the Sion can become a reality on a lot less money that traditional cars: they don’t need a new factory, they don’t need a paint shop (because its mostly covered in solar cells), they don’t have expensive steel stamping tools, and there is only one variant and one colour of car.

The Sion, which will be produced in Trollhättan, Sweden by National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) in what was the old SAAB plant. The company said that the solar panels will give the car an added boost of 30 km a day. Since the average car in Germany drives just 22 km per day, under the right conditions, the Sion could get along on sunlight alone.

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