Three-wheeled cars offer unique advantages in aerodynamic design and build costs, but they also work from a fundamental disadvantage in terms of handling. Put simply, three wheels can not possibly generate the same levels of mechanical grip as a four-wheel design. EV startup Aptera, which recently unveiled its “design intent” 2e EV, found out just how hard it can be to make a three-wheeled design operate to mainstream standards during shakedowns for the Automotive X-Prize in which it is competing.
Aptera’s difficulties centered on the lane-change test, in which the vehicle must accelerate to 45 mph and then maneuver through a simulated lane change without contacting the cones that delineate the course. Consumer Reports describes Aptera’s issues:
Watched by a large group, including many note-taking and video-taping team members, the three-wheeled Aptera car struggled to find a clean run. More than two dozen attempts were made, with the car routinely sliding enough to topple several cones. In watching, it seemed natural to question how difficult this test is to pass. However, all current production vehicles, from small cars to large trucks, can successfully negotiate this test. We expect the Auto X Prize finalists to do the same.
The video above shows just how wild the three-wheeled wobbling was. Aptera, meanwhile is downplaying its struggles, describing the ordeal in its April newsletter thusly:
The first dynamic event was the 0 – 60 mph acceleration, followed closely by the 60 – 0 mph deceleration event, which provided little challenge for the 2e. After a few short passes, the team was off to the next event: the double-lane-change maneuver, which was not as much of a cakewalk. Without the benefit of prior ride development, the 2e repeatedly passed through the course, but 1 – 1.5 mph below the required speed. The challenge was particularly frustrating because the double-lane-change is a standard part of Aptera’s development plan, but the team simply hadn’t had the opportunity to tune the vehicle yet.
Passing the gate was the only option, so the Aptera team loaded up on caffeine and worked into the night to adjust the suspension for better handling through the course. Then, when the call came for Aptera to retake the test, the team showed up at the track with tuning gear in hand and iterated the vehicle set-up right there on the track until it floated through the trap at the mandated speed.
In other words, the “production intent” 2e has had no suspension tuning done to it. And, as disgruntled fans at the Aptera Forum note, the “production intent” design’s inclusion of weight-adding luxuries like cupholders and roll-up windows likely added to the 2e’s woes. Chalk up another bit of evidence in support of critics like former Tesla PR man Darryl Siry, who argues that:
If Aptera had launched a limited volume run of vehicles in 2008 to rabid early adopters who would never complain about roll down windows they would be well on their way to a better product, would have more market traction, and would have loads more credibility.
Good luck getting that genie back in the bottle.
[UPDATE: Aptera passed the handling text the next day, according to a rep from the marketing/communications firm PCGCampbell]