Automotive

Aptera EV Trike Gets Big Bucks, Inches Closer to Production

  • Aptera, the startup aiming to make a three-wheeled electric vehicle, just got $4 million in funding.
  • That brings it closer to actual production, slated for the end of 2021.
  • The ultra-efficient three-wheeled two-seater promises 1000 miles of range.

    Electric-trike maker Aptera finally has what it needs to really get going: money. Last week the company announced it had closed on $4 million in Series A funding. “Aptera’s continued momentum has now garnered it over 7000 vehicle reservations in just over two months, totaling a quarter-billion in orders,” the company’s news section read.

    It goes on to say Aptera has moved into a new production design facility in the tony Sorrento Valley area of San Diego, just east of La Jolla. (Aside: Dr. Seuss lived in La Jolla and would probably have approved of the Aptera’s shape.)

    The shape, like everything on the vehicle, is squeezed for efficiency. It has a ludicrous 0.15 coefficient of drag and a curb weight of just 1800 pounds. Depending on what battery you order and how much sun the rooftop panels can add to your drive, you could get 1000 miles of range out of this thing. If you live in a really, really sunny spot, you can gain over 41 miles a day in free electricity from the solar panels, or 11,484 extra free-sun-happy miles a day. If you live in, say, New York, you can still make between 11 and 30 miles a day. Most people don’t actually drive that far in a typical day, so for them, it’s basically free fuel forever.

    Prices are still listed at between $25,900 and $46,900 for the high-efficiency two-seater, with the first deliveries planned for the end of this year. The company wants to hit 10,000 vehicles a year by 2022.

    Below is a recent Aptera story with more details:

    Anybody remember the Aptera 2e? The three-wheeled two-seater that looked like a flying pumpkin seed? Well it’s back, or it will be back, and the stats of the new model that its makers are throwing around sound crazy: a curb weight as low as 1800 pounds, range of up to 1000 miles(!), priced starting at $25,900.

    Incredible, right?

    Let’s back up a bit, like about 14 years. In 2006 when the company was more or less founded, it was going to revolutionize transportation through efficiency. Three wheels instead of four allowed for the wild aerodynamic shape you see here, as well as skirting federal safety standards. Three-wheelers are generally classified as motorcycles by NHTSA, but if they’re enclosed like this one, you usually don’t have to wear a helmet.

    An electric motor drove the rear wheel on that original model and produced an mpg equivalent of 200 miles per gallon. Pricing back then was going to be between $25,000 and $45,000. In 2008 it was entered in the Automotive X Prize contest with a claim of 300 mpg equivalent. Original plans called for a plug-in-hybrid version utilizing a 500-cc catalyst-equipped gasoline engine. The PHEV would compliment the battery electric models in the lineup.

    All too soon, however, the money ran out, and a reported dispute (about whether the car should have roll-down windows, of all things) doomed production. The company closed its doors in 2011, not having delivered a single car to a customer.

    Original founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony.

    Aptera

    However, the original founders, Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, never gave up. They are shown now posed with an Aptera, ready for the future.

    The new car will be electric only, with a variety of battery packs available. The bigger the pack, the longer the range. Consider this: 25 kWh good for 250 miles of range; 40 kWh for 400 miles; 60 kWh for 600 miles; and the king-daddy 1000.0-kWh battery will give a promised—and unprecedented—1000 miles of range. That works out to 10 miles per kWh, by the way. Contemporary EVs are closer to 4 miles per kWh. So the pumpkin shape means two and a half times more range? That’s what they’re saying.

    But the most interesting statistic may be the power of the solar roof. Most previous applications of solar roofs on electric or hybrid cars say they’re only good for a few hundred watts of power. Some carmakers say they’re only good to operate an exhaust fan to keep the car’s interior cooler on hot days. But Aptera says its roof options—up to three solar panels—can give you 60 miles of range. That’s unprecedented statistic number two. The maximum panel size is three square meters, which yields a claimed 700 watts of charge as long as the sun is shining. Say you live in South Miami and get 10 hours of direct, glaring sunlight a day—700 watts times 10 hours is 7.0 kWh. If this rig really does get 10 miles per kWh, that’d be good for 70 miles. Aptera is only claiming 60 miles, though it expresses that as 60 kilometers plus 24 miles. In the main press release it claims 45 miles. An earlier release, still on its website, said the solar roof would be good for 40 miles. Take your pick. Co-CEO Chris Anthony tries to explain:

    “If you put our same solar package on a Prius, you could get maybe six or eight miles of charge range a day, which some people might find compelling, if you have a really short commute. For most people, it wouldn’t be worth the expense of the solar. But when you only burn 100 watt-hours per mile, like the Aptera does, the same solar package can get you 40-plus miles a day of range.”

    The trick is getting that 100 watt-hours, which, with the craft’s shape and light weight, seems entirely plausible. The company sums it all up with a statement:

    “Aptera Motors today announced it has introduced the first solar electric vehicle (sEV) that requires no charging for most daily use and boasts a range of up to 1000 miles per full charge, shattering industry performance achievements to date. Aptera leverages breakthroughs in lightweight structures, low-drag aerodynamics and cooling, material science, and manufacturing processes to deliver the most efficient vehicle ever made available to consumers.”

    The body is made of lightweight composites that are said to meet “all applicable safety standards.” Keep in mind that the standards applicable to a three-wheeler are nowhere near as stringent as those required of a four-wheeled, generic “car.” That’s okay. People ride motorcycles, don’t they?

    That slippery exterior is said to have a drag coefficient of 0.13, which looks entirely possible. Power goes to all three wheels via hub motors in each wheel. Autonomous driving is said to be on the list of features, though no specifics were proferred.

    Will it really happen this time? Deliveries are slated for “2021,” which gives them a little elbow room should there be yet another dispute about roll-down windows, or maybe cupholders. But it sure looks cool. The slice of electric car enthusiasts who program their own software will likely love this thing. As for the rest of the planet, well, who doesn’t want 1000 miles of range and free solar charging?

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