Aptera wants a piece of the $25 billion Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program loan pie. Unfortunately for the California startup they can't have any because the program is companies making high efficiency "cars." That means vehicles that pass all federal motor vehicle safety standards. The tear drop shaped Aptera may have very low drag and be very light weight, but, as we mentioned yesterday, it only has three wheels and does not meet all the safety requirements put on a car and is thus classified as a motorcycle (albeit a full bodied one) just like the Zap Xebra and other startups.
Aptera protests that they followed this three-wheeled route to optimize the efficiency of its vehicle. That may well be true, but a big piece of that has to do with keeping weight and cost down by not meeting all the FMVSS requirements. There is, of course, no technological reason that a three-wheeled vehicle could not meet the safety rules, but that would add a lot of weight, thus negating much of the benefit of the current vehicle. Should an exception be made for vehicles like the Aptera to be eligible for the loans? If so then perhaps we should just abandon all the safety rules, since they are a major part of why modern cars are so heavy.
Consumers have come to expect a certain level of protection in modern cars. They need to understand that just because a vehicle may have a full body, it may not be made to the same standards. If people are good with that, then grant Aptera's request and amend the rules for the loan program. If people are not prepared to accept a lower standard of safety, you know the answer.
Update: Since posting this story I've interviewed Aptera's Marques McCammon who tells us that even though the 2e is not required to meet motor vehicle safety standards, it is designed too and will be crash tested.
APTERA MOTORS GOES TO WASHINGTON
With its all-electric vehicle set for Q4 launch, SoCal manufacturer to update legislators about its American-made 'aerodynamic marvel' that gets the equivalent of more than 200 mpg
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
VISTA, Calif. (Mar. 12, 2009) – The Obama Administration has established a goal for the U.S. transportation industry: put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015; cars built in America that get up to 150 miles per gallon. In the fourth quarter of this year, Aptera Motors in Vista, Calif., just north of San Diego, will begin manufacturing its 2e plug-in, an all-electric three-wheeled two-seater that gets the equivalent of over 200 mpg, goes 100 miles on a single charge and has a top speed of 90 mph.
However, because the aerodynamically designed vehicle has a three-wheeled architecture -- which, according to Aptera engineers, improves highway efficiency by more than 25 percent due to lower resistance and weight -- the Department of Energy is not permitted to grant a loan. As a matter of law, the DoE is adhering to the Advance Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program, which makes funds available to support the development of fuel efficient vehicles – currently limited to four-wheeled vehicles.
"We've received financial backing from funders like Google and IdeaLab, and now we'd like to tell our story of breakthrough aerodynamic design and efficiency on Capitol Hill," says Aptera President/CEO Paul Wilbur, a former top executive at Chrysler for 25 years.
"Aptera can change everyday commuter driving forever, and even though we're a relative newcomer, we're confident our vision, purpose and results will compel federal lawmakers to rally around our cause and embrace efficiency in federal policy."
In fact, Congressmen such as Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-CA) and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) have introduced a new bill that would include companies that build ultra-high efficiency vehicles for consideration in the DoE's loan program. H.R.1382, The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Act, opens the DoE's loan program to closed cabin two- and three-wheeled vehicles that are capable of more than 75 mpg.
"By unlocking the door of federal funding to ultra-high efficiency vehicles," says Aptera Chief Financial Officer Laura Marion, "companies like Aptera can compete on a level playing field with more traditionally designed vehicles, leaving the ultimate buying decision in consumers' hands."
The ultra-light 2e weighs 1,700 pounds, carries safety features such as a race car-like passenger safety cell, airbags and a front crumple zone, and has already graced the cover of Popular Mechanics as a recipient of the "Breakthrough Technology Award" for 2008, it's a competitor for the coveted Progressive Automotive X-Prize and was named by Time magazine among its "Best Inventions of 2008." Aptera management projects the 2e will cost between $25,000 and $40,000, depending on options, and with additional models and powertrains like the 2h (two-passenger hybrid) already under development, the company expects to create some 1,500 jobs and more than 100,000 vehicles in the next five years.
"The 2e is as safe as any car on the road, and its groundbreaking aerodynamics helps it to fly past fueling stations," says Wilbur. "We're taking a pair of our vehicles to Washington to show first-hand how great mileage and innovative technology have combined to create a vehicle that's priced to fit within most family budgets. We'll show how the 2e helps define energy efficiency and can be a valuable component of President Obama's green economy."
Aptera Motors (www.aptera.com), founded in 2004 to develop and build the safest, most energy efficient commuter vehicles on the road, begins volume production of its first vehicle, the all-electric 2e, in 2009. Utilizing streamlined aerodynamic design, lightweight composite structures and unique drive systems, Aptera (which means wingless flight) delivers vehicles that are attainable and efficient. The company operates two Southern California facilities in north San Diego County, where it designs, engineers and manufactures the vehicles and their composite systems to create an exceptionally strong, sleek body.