German startup Sono Motors has integrated solar panels into its Sion electric vehicle (EV), allowing the car to charge while it is driving.

The Sion has a 155-mile range and high-power rapid recharging, which allows an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. The panels can add up to 18 miles of range in the summer in Germany — and should add even more range in the many parts of the U.S. that get a lot more sun than central Europe.

The car, which will be available next year, will cost $20,000 plus $5,000 for the battery. But Sono Motors will offer an option of leasing the battery to keep the cost to buyers low.

Solar panels have been dropping in price so fast that, according to Sono CEO and co-founder Laurin Hahn, it is actually cheaper for the company to integrate solar panels directly into the car’s black polycarbonate body than to have a traditional automotive paint job.

That’s why Sono — which was partly funded through a crowd-sourcing campaign — has put the panels almost everywhere (see photo below).

As for why there are panels on the sides of the car, Hahn explains that they don’t add a net cost to the car, but they do a lot of the charging in the winter months, when the sun is lower in the sky, and the extra range is only a few miles.

Sono is one of the only car companies in the world to be putting solar panels in its car — and the only one integrating panels into the entire car.

Whether the Sion proves a game-changer remains to be seen. The company claims 6,500 pre-orders, which is impressive for a small startup, but just a tiny fraction of the EV market today.

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