Here comes the sun car?


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German start-up Sono Motors has crowd-funded $200,000 to build prototypes of its snub-nose four-door Sion, a car sporting solar panels on its body, roof and rear bumper. It’s capable of going 18 miles a day on sun power alone.

This is the latest in a worldwide gaggle of high-tech investments and experiments promising to power your car with an energy source other than fossil fuels.

Electric and other new or clean-energy vehicles, along with driverless cars, are generating a lot of press in the automaking world. While ambitions are big, battery or solar technology as vehicles’ sole energy source is proving quite limited.

Yes, there has been progress in increasing battery effectiveness. However, fossil fuels retain more energy longer, and at a cheaper cost. And, electric vehicle sales, now only 1 percent of sales in the US, Europe and China, are estimated to hit only 2 percent within the next decade. An estimated 650,000 electric vehicles were sold worldwide in 2016, compared to the 84 million-strong number of traditional vehicles sold.

Audi also is experimenting with solar-powered vehicles. It has teamed with Alta Devices, a Chinese-owned solar tech company, to develop solar cells to cover a car’s roof and power the car’s electrical appliances, such as the audio system and seat heaters.

In this latest promised development, Sono Motors says the panels will charge a battery pack capable of taking the car 75 or 155 miles, depending on buyer choice. Battery packs also can be charged by plugging the car into an electric socket.

But a full tank of gas will get you two to three times the mileage. And therein lies the reason why we forecast slow growth in this market sector.

While various technologies, from electric highways to solar-electricity panels on cars’ roofs, are being tested, the power problem will persist. Predictions of electric-vehicle drivers having a range of vehicle choices within a decade are not supported by the trend. 

TREND FORECAST: While the transition to multi-fuel cars is under way, the technology of electric or new energy-powered cars has not been mastered. The problem of recharging those vehicles every day limits their mass-market acceptability.

Thus, we forecast that vehicles solely powered by current new-energy technologies are not imminent. However, hybrid-fuel vehicles, relying on a combination of power sources, including petroleum, are a transition technology by themselves. By the middle of the century, vehicles powered solely by petroleum will be unique to specialty markets, if they’re still manufactured at all.

TRENDPOST: Governments are among the main drivers of new energy vehicle development, but the technology is struggling to keep up with demands. However, the countries hit most by pollution problems, especially China, are betting their future on new energy vehicles.

Thus, those searching for trend-breaking developments in this field should closely monitor China’s progress.

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