Aptera Motors has pushed its first street-ready prototype out of the cradle. Yes, it’s a tricycle, with a drive train à la Fisher Price PowerWheels, and a name that sounds like a one-year-old pointing out the cruise director on Love Boat, but the 2e might prove to be the car the Chevy electric/gas plug-in hybrid Volt and lithium-ion-powered Tesla long to be: the future.
Aptera itself is only a toddler, raised for the last three years by Google and others, now with a chance at the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. The contest from the X Prize Foundation challenges teams to “design viable, clean and super-efficient cars that people want to buy.” To stake a claim, Aptera claims the 2e achieves the equivalent of 200 mpg and 100 miles on a charge. They hope to have cars in Southern Californian driveways before November.
“Everything is progressing nicely as we ramp up for full production of the 2e beginning in October,” says chief marketing officer Marques McCammon. “We’re still on target to build an ultra-efficient, high-mileage vehicle without sacrificing comfort and safety, and once Californians get behind the wheel this fall, we expect to change the world of commuter transportation.”
Well ahead of Chevy Volt’s debut, the 2e is supposed to hit the street between $25,000 and $45,000, halving or quartering a Tesla’s price. Not that it’s a fair comparison. Tesla wants the mantle of true sports car. Chevy wants respectability. The 2e wants to win. Hearts, minds and 10 million large. It’s got a shot, if you believe corporations, which I do. Not what they’re saying, mind you, but what they’re doing. Aptera seems to be quietly making a car like no other.
The difference between the 2e and the rest of the world can be seen in any slideshow from the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. Eight companies lit up cars they say we’ll be plugging in come the next decade. They all look like cars. The 2e could have played Eva in Wall-E. The dove body with Cessna landing gear makes the Prius look like a brick.
The thing is so birdlike you can’t help but ask if it’s safe. Three-wheeled ATVs were outlawed because of the inherent instability. Aptera dumps a lot of answers on that question. First, they use composite materials for the exterior (“lighter than steel but three times as strong.”). They claim not one, but two elephants can stand on the 2e’s shell without hatching a mess. That shell wraps a Formula 1 style passenger cage and more airbags than a chop shop in Modesto.
All of which is great for the driver. For the car? It looks like an underwriter’s nightmare. The rear is one, big whale tail. The front wheels are on little spindles. The wonderfully sleek, nearly seamless body looks as though it could absorb a crash nicely with its totality. Resulting in a total. Eh, none of us want to drive Hummers anymore, right?
Lithium-ion batteries juice the 2e’s electric motor that, per company literature, urges the car from zero to 60 in less than 10 seconds, topping out at 90 mph. Even the guy in the Aveo laughs at you, but riding around for 100 miles on half a buck is a whole new kind of bragging right. Then you plug in. At a standard 110 volt outlet, you’re watching Lord of the Rings before you’re stuck in traffic again. All three disks.
At 55 mph, half a car’s energy is used to cut the air. With a coefficient of drag around 0.15, the 2e is a Ginsu. It’s only 1,700 pounds. Oh, and the tester has gull wing doors. Maybe they improve efficiency, maybe not, but they appear integral to the design. They might actually make it into the final product.
Aptera wanted a real car, though, so they stuck to their mandate of two people and two sets of golf clubs. The 2e is classified as a motorcycle by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. They had to call it something. Given the size of the C-pillars, I would’ve voted for panel truck.
Aptera says it’s taken 4,000 deposits for a car they promise will look and spec out really close to the prototype: front-wheel drive, solar powered climate control, do-it-yourself windows. Not what you’d call luxury but comfier than an Austin Healy, if that counts for anything.
It might. Industrial design is always about compromise. Aptera hasn’t created the fastest, biggest or softest EV concept, but they’re thinking about showrooms, while most others are thinking about shows. It’s too early to tell if 2e will grow up and become the future of the car. It certainly does look the part, though. We’ll check back around Halloween and see if it has anything more than a cool costume.