The view from the cockpit: The Aptera 2e. (Aptera photo)
It's great to dream big. I have driven in the Aptera 2e, which looks like a Blade Runner car that lost its ability to fly. It's an airplane, but with lithium-ion batteries instead of wings. But the company's founders, and its hired-gun professional CEO from the auto industry, swore that it would be on the road in 2009. Some 4,000 people believed enough to put down deposits.
The Aptera is fanciful indeed, but the company claimed down-to-earth numbers for it. It can supposedly cruise 100 miles between charges and reach 60 mph in under 10 seconds. I can't confirm the performance because, in my one up-close meeting, CEO Paul Wilbur made me ride shotgun because the prototype on hand "is not the latest model." He gave my somewhat reluctant daughter (pictured) a ride, too.
But now Aptera appears to be imploding, and largely because of money woes and the production timetable. Both founders have left (including the one who sketched the car on a napkin) and the schedule has been pushed back to sometime in 2010. The confrontation between Wilbur and founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony reportedly ended in a confrontation at the board level that the practical Wilbur--who insists the car isn't ready, and needs such basic amenities as wind-down windows in its cool fold-up doors--apparently won. At least he's still there and they aren't.
Is the Aptera 2e practical for mass production? I have doubts in its current form. The car is just too quirky--I left the company out of my list of "eight EV startups likely to make it" for just that reason.
Wilbur knows this and will probably introduce new improvements before launch that will make the car more mainstream. The pod body is incredibly aerodynamic and lightweight, but that's not enough of an advantage if people don't buy it.
One of the emerging lessons about EVs is that it's no longer enough to sell a few dozen to utilities and true believers. The cars and trucks have to compete head on with Detroit (not that hard!), Stuttgart (harder!) and Tokyo (really hard!). And carmakers need to take care of their prospective customers: Aptera's are getting restive, especially since I first reported the likely delay of the car about two weeks ago.
The Electrification Coalition announced early this week seeks to jump-start the EV revolution with 700,000 on the road (in eight strategic locations) by 2013 and seven million (in maybe 30 places) by 2018. By 2040, the group says, 75% of all miles traveled could be in grid-ready battery cars and plug-in hybrids.
Aptera is down but not out. It can come back with a ready-for-prime-time player: A tweaked 2e that will rev up people's imaginations. Who wouldn't want to see that outcome?
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