Aptera invited us down to the Palomar Airport in stunningly beautiful Carlsbad, CA to show off the latest iteration of their three-wheeled, high-mileage electric car, the 2010 2e. Before the fairly-close-to-production-ready car was driven into Hanger #11, CEO Paul Wilbur gave a state of the Aptera union address, explaining why the company has had its head down for the past several months. After all, a year ago you couldn't causally glance at a magazine or newspaper without seeing the white three-wheeler. But lately? Not so much.
According to Wilbur, this has been intentional. The first reason is due to funding. "2009 was difficult," Wilbur explained, especially for companies seeking start-up funding. The other reason is that Aptera has been, "Engineering." Meaning that they wanted to have a more finished, production-ready vehicle to show off to the media and customers. "We have to get it right the first time," Wilbur explained. Going further, he stressed the fact that Aptera doesn't want to go down in history as the next Yugo, DeLorean or Tucker. The questions then are, does Aptera have the necessary funding and is the car they showed off today actually production ready? Well... make the jump to find out.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Aptera has lined up new business partners in what Wilbur referred to as the first round of funding, yet he asserts that the up-start is still not, "fully funded." However, they are not only competing in the Progressive Automotive X Prize (in fact the car in the pictures above is being crated up and shipped off to Detroit to compete for the X Prize while this is being typed) but have applied for $184 million in federal loans, enough money to fund Aptera for the next five years. Regardless of whether or not they get the loan, the plan is to go through two more rounds of fund raising. Once that happens the 2e is then eleven months from production. In other words, they wouldn't give us a firm date for production, but late 2011 isn't a bad guess.
Lots of government types were in attendance today, which prompted Wilbur to say things like, "Aptera can only compete thanks to federal loans." He also stressed the fact that Aptera just moved into a new 200,000 square foot headquarters in Oceanside, CA that will eventually produce 500 jobs. In addition, when their factory is up and running it will account for an additional 2,000 jobs, not to mention the 10,000 or so indirect jobs that the Aptera supply chain and dealer network (among other things) will create. The other politician worthy news is that 90% of Aptera's suppliers are American companies. Big names including Pratt & Miller, GE, Michelin and Continental were thrown around.
Of course Wilbur also stressed that the Aptera 2e will be the most fuel efficient vehicle in the world, achieving in excess of the electric equivalent of 200 miles per gallon (MPGe), produces half the emissions of a Prius (when you factor in the coal burned to produce the electricity that charges the battery) and has a running cost of $0.02 per mile. Wilbur also reminded us that the current CAFE standards would accommodate a 1908 Model T.
To introduce what Aptera is calling the 2010 2e they brought out head engineer Tom Reichenbach. That name might be familiar to you as Mr. Reichenbach worked on both the Ford GT and Ford EcoBoost. "If I want to get to heaven I have to do something socially responsible," explained the two-time SCCA National Champion. The Aptera, in his mind, balances out his other cars. According to Reichenbach, the 2010 2e went through a series of focus groups to achieve its, "Customer-level spec."
New for the 2010 are roll down windows, larger doors, a lower sill, an opening hood to check fuel levels, five-mph bumpers and a revised suspension. Even with all these production-friendly changes, the coefficient of drag is still freakishly low – less than 0.15. To put that in perspective, a Prius's Cd is 0.25 (though a streamlined Tatra T77 is 0.215, and that was in 1934). We poked our snout into the interior and not only did it look "real," it also looked nice, with an iDrive-type controller and a medium-sized navigation screen and four HVAC vents. The trunk is pretty large, capable of holding four medium-sized bags and two sets of golf clubs. While still technically classified as a motorcycle, the Aptera 2e will pass all of the more than 700 car safety standards required by the NHTSA. A motorcycle only has to pass 38.
We asked Reichenbach how much more aerodynamic the 2e's three-wheeling design is versus a four-wheeled vehicle. His answer came in two parts. One is that the 2e is Aptera's first car, which we took to mean that a four-wheeled Aptera might be in the offing. The second part is even better, "We will not compromise our efficiency for anything." Though looking over the 2e's specs, it looks as if drivers won't have to compromise much. The two-seater weighs just 1,800 pounds (with two-thirds of the weight sitting up front, just like an Altima or Accord coupe), yet is motivated by an electric motor churning out 110 horsepower (82 kilowatt) and 232 pound-feet of torque, and like other EVs, all the grunt is available the moment you depress the accelerator. We watched as the 2e zipped around the parking lot shooting some TV B-reel and were pretty disappointed that we're going to have to wait until mid-May to get a ride and drive. It's that impressive. As it stands, the Aptera 2e is still at least one year and millions of dollars away from production, but we're much less inclined to bet against them today than we were yesterday.