Today we are pleased to announce that we have successfully handed over the CAD data for the production of the next prototype generation to our manufacturing partner Roding – another important step on the way to series production. Over the last few days, our colleague Julius has been in an intensive exchange with the project managers. He explains why we have again chosen Roding as our partner, why the timing for the prototype production was adjusted and what will be possible with the new prototypes.
It's been almost three years. On July 27, 2017, our team of around 15 employees presented the prototype of the Sion at the Munich Technology Center. As you can imagine, the days and weeks leading up to the release event among supporters, journalists and politicians were turbulent. Under the greatest time pressure, we worked on the prototype the night before the presentation. Our team had discovered an error in the cabling during the final check. Not even 24 hours later, Max, then as now jointly responsible for vehicle development, carefully drove the Sion down a ramp from the stage to the visitors who, after the presentation of our founders, could not wait to see the prototype of the Sion at close range.
From the Munich Technology Center, we set sail to new lands. In the last three years we have completed thousands of test drives in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, France, Sweden and Italy. In the process, a total of about 15,000 kilometers landed on the digital speedometer. We are certain: without these test drives we would never have been able to convince so many people of our concept.
But just as Sono Motors no longer consists of 15 employees who share a room the size of a single apartment, these vehicles no longer represent the state of the art in development technology. We have not only professionalized and developed ourselves as a company, we have also raised the development of the Sion to a level that is ever closer to the final production version of the vehicle. In short, we think it is about time to send our first-generation prototypes into well-deserved retirement.
CAD Data Transfer to Roding
To be able to start building the new vehicles, the manufacturer needs the current status of the design data of the Sion. The transfer of the CAD data to our partner Roding was an important milestone for us, which we were able to complete in June just as planned.
By the way, “CAD” is the English abbreviation for “computer aided design”. This is because the design process of a vehicle includes the geometric modeling of the individual components as well as the calculation and simulation. In principle, a CAD model is a virtual vehicle.
From the moment it is handed over, the manufacturer is responsible for the construction of the body shell, the “Body in White”, and ensures that the vehicles are assembled as planned by our development team. The handover of the CAD data is, so to speak, the starting signal for the construction of the new prototypes.
After careful consideration, our development team has decided to work with an old acquaintance: The Roding Automobile GmbH. Already our first two prototypes have been built in 2017 in close cooperation with Roding – experts for lightweight construction and e-mobility. Since this exciting time, we have had a close relationship.
Over the past three years, Roding has been responsible for the maintenance and repair of the prototypes. If we had stressed the vehicles a bit too much during the numerous test drives, a quick visit was indispensable. The local proximity was and is also very helpful for our future cooperation.
Apart from our team, nobody knows more about the first generation prototypes than our colleagues from Roding. They have been enjoying a proven expertise in the field of prototype production for over ten years. Here, many things still are taken care of manually and under the watchful eyes of co-founder and managing director Ferdinand Heindlmeier.
“At Roding we specialise in the construction of prototypes. We were aware that we would not necessarily play a major role in the series development of the Sion”, explains Ferdinand. “The fact that Sono has now approached us again, including us in the project, has made us very happy! The Sion also means a lot to us. The construction of the prototypes in 2017 was an exciting and ambitious project that we enjoyed very much!”
“I am particularly looking forward to seeing the vehicle live”, adds Ferdinand. “We all know the new 3D models, but having the new vehicle within reach in our hall will certainly be a unique experience for everyone involved”.
Prototype Construction: The Next Steps
First, Roding will slightly adjust the CAD model to prepare it for the appropriate manufacturing method. During this process all necessary tools will be designed and manufactured. Furthermore, specific parts are produced while our colleagues purchase the required vehicle components from our suppliers.
This is followed by the production of the first body shells, the assembly of all parts, and, of course, the commissioning. Once these steps have all been completed, we can start testing the vehicles.
Previously we had calculated that all these steps would be completed by the end of September. However, as part of the program relaunch and taking into account the effects of the global corona pandemic, we have adjusted our strategy. This has delayed the prototype launch from the end of September to, if everything goes according to plan, November. Instead of the original four vehicles, we have also decided to build just two. There are several reasons for this, which can best be explained by why we develop prototypes at all and have them produced by an external company.
A Snapshot of the State of Development
Philipp is responsible for the management of prototype development. “A prototype is always a kind of snapshot of the development status”, explains Philipp. “Its main purpose is to show the progress of the development. But the development team also learns a lot during the production process, for example about the integration of the components and how well they already work together”.
In our conversation with vehicle developer Max, we could already read that this type of “test run” involves all those areas that also play a central role in series production – from purchasing and logistics, to manufacturing.
“There are two central reasons why we rely on an external manufacturer like Roding for the production of the prototypes”, Philipp explains. “Firstly, we save internal capacities which we use for further preparing the series production. By the way, this is also one of the reasons why we have two vehicles manufactured instead of four. Secondly, by working with the external manufacturer we also learn a lot about our internal coordination processes, which we can then optimize for later cooperation with the series manufacturer.”
Of course, one of the most important questions remains: Where are the biggest differences between the old and the new generation of prototypes? After all, three years have passed since we presented our development status in the form of a vehicle.
“First of all, most core components come from our series suppliers”, says Philipp. “The engine from Continental, the cooling system, and the complete chassis will already be installed in the SVC2. So the wheelbase and vehicle geometry is the same as they will be later in the series production. On the one hand, this allows us to validate our simulations under real conditions, and on the other hand, our supporters can get a new impression of what it will feel like to drive the final vehicle. The focus is clearly on a new look and feel”.
This of course includes the external as well as the internal appearance. The integration of the solar cells will already look different than in the prototype and the dashboard. Same goes for the cockpit. There will also be a reduced form of the series’ infotainment system and a reduced set of digital capabilities of some of the mobility and energy service features of the Sono app. These include unlocking the Sion with a smartphone, the functionality of sharing the vehicle with others and the possibility to withdraw energy from the car. They will be included in the current version of the Sono app at that time, in order to test them extensively.
Over many years, we have taken our prototype vehicles very much to heart. Nevertheless, we can't wait for the new prototypes to arrive. Even though it will take a little more time than expected, we are very happy to have found the right partner to get the new prototypes on the road.