By on February 6, 2009

Saw this ad on TV for the first time whilst fantasizing about a Rachel Maddow vs. Bill O’Reilly death match (rules upon request). The first thing that struck me: the Aptera is the only car in the world with less sideways visibility than the 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe. Second, what is that hulk those guys are washing, and does the man from Griot’s Garage wince every time he sees that paint-scratching action? And lastly, I reckon the Volt has had its day in the sun. It’s not a profound Insight, but by the time Chevy’s not-so-slammed electric/gas hybrid appears, the Volt’s gee whiz factor will have drained off into the gestaltosphere. The Volt will have to compete with real cars in the real world, offering real advantages to real buyers. As you may have noticed, GM isn’t so good at reality. Still, where there’s a will, there’s an Uncle Sugar. The feds are lining up some $10k worth of tax credits for GM’s Hail Mary. Per vehicle. Is it enough? And will the clock run out before The General can even send in the special teams? Your guess is better than theirs.

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27 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 126: There’s a New Kid In Town (Aptera)...”

  • avatar

    To answer the second question, that’s a ’48 Dodge.

  • avatar

    The big old hulk is a 1946, 1947 or 1948 Dodge (there was virtually no difference between them for obvious post-war “we can sell anything with wheels” reasons).

    I love the “WTF?” look on the dog’s face, huh? Of course, the first time I saw the Aptera (or the Citroen DS, at age 8, in 1965) my face looked like those boys’ faces.

  • avatar

    Isn’t this actually Volt Birth Watch 128? I’m fairly certain 126 has already been reused once.

  • avatar

    Maddow vs. O’Reilly deathmatch? Awesome. Maddow gets a “sword” and O’Reilly gets a sponge…that was EASY.

  • avatar

    Boy, so many targets in one little paragraph….

    O’Reilly wears more makeup than Maddow, and Maddow’s suits fit better. I call it a toss up.

    The Aptera is a stupid toy. It embodies everything that is wrong with the idea that we are going to change the world by suddenly driving pod cars, or segways, or monorails, or hovercraft… I would offer this one revision: “The APTERA will have to compete with real cars in the real world, offering real advantages to real buyers. As you may have noticed, APTERA isn’t so good at reality…”

    Richard Griot will gladly sell you everything you need to get those scratches out, so keep washing.

  • avatar

    Sure the Aptera is a niche product, but I think it’s kind of a neat toy. Mass acceptance may not arrive because the vehicle is classified as a motorcycle.

  • avatar

    What are the crash-test ratings on a car-cycle like this?

    Maddow vs. O’Reilly? Can they please toss grenades at ten paces?

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “a Rachael Maddow vs. Bill O’Reilly death match”

    Only if they both die.

  • avatar

    The volt isn’t out yet and there are still two years of development left for it, there isnt a person out there, besides those who really work on the project, and even they are questionable because there is still two years of development left, that know what the volt will or will not be able to do. It could meet all of its requirements or *GASP* do even better, or it may not do as well as its been touted too. Either way its groundbreaking technology thats needed and wanted and i applaud GM for going through with it and setting such an aggressive plan for it. Atleast they’re shooting for something, rather than just improving upon an already staid idea. coughtoyotacough

  • avatar


    Atleast they’re shooting for something, rather than just improving upon an already staid idea. coughtoyotacough

    Funny, that’s exactly what GM should have done. Too late now folks.

  • avatar

    It’s not too late. License HSD. Job done.

    Put it in the Vibe.

  • avatar


    Ford looked the situation over and has come to the same conclusion as Toyota… It is not necessary to bet the farm on something unproven that requires a battery that doesn’t exist (at least, not at the price necessary to make the project cost-effective), just incrementally improve a product that’s already proven to work.

  • avatar

    If every company in every industry though just kept incrementally improving a product thats proven to work, then how would new ideas and new ways of doing things come about? this has already happened, we have kept improving the internal combustion engine instead of breaking out and finding new paths to start, which at first may be risky, expensive, and not as efficient, but will lead to new innovative ideas thus allowing the technology to become more effective and cheaper. I have stated that I applaud GM for doing this, and will continue to, because without risks innovation would never be possible.

  • avatar

    Way to go Aptera! Good luck to you!

    I’ve got this feeling however that since folks dismiss good products over tiny opinions about trim, belt lines, and styling of rooflines that the Aptera hasn’t got a chance with those folks.

    Hey – I want an EV – BAD. A Rav4EV dressed up in 1st Gen Honda CR-V clothes or as an Astra would be great.

    Why does all of the “revolutionary” EVs have to come dressed for a StarTrek convention?

    Still – good luck for you. With no backseat, odd cargo capacity due to it’s shape – I’m going to have a hard time inserting this into my lifestyle.

    How about an electric Beetle (old style)? Great second car and still safer than a motorcycle after all these years.

  • avatar

    Well goll-ee, partner, it looks like there’s a new kid in town gunnin’ fer them government handouts…

    It almost makes me want to cheer for GM. Almost.

  • avatar

    Ever visited the Aptera launch site? It reads like a grade school paper (looks like one too). No specs, no real information, just touting ridiculous claims without backing… And of course offering green keeners the chance to put down a deposit.

    Anyone who claims they have a street vehicle capable of 300 mpg should be forced to present said vehicle immediately for third party objective testing. Or STFU until it’s ready.

  • avatar

    The Aptera is not much more vapor than the Volt at this point.

  • avatar

    Whatever else GM reaps, due to years of mismanagement and pig-headed business practices, in the here and now I applaud them for having the blind chutzpah to invest in a game changing technology. To step out on a ledge, however desperately, is an act worthy of some praise.

    There are lots of good reasons to go electric. Despite this, eventually the innovative benefits of something new must naturally take a backseat to the more mainstream dollars and cents arguments had across the kitchen tables of the nation. That’s just business, you have to sell what you produce, but new technology doesn’t ever just drop out of the sky fully complete, nor cheap. It takes years of effort, investment, dead ends, risk taking, more money, and trial and error to eventually get it right. That’s simply the reality of any innovative develpment cycle. Progress of any sort is an expensive journey of fits and starts, back and forth, and ultimately an ongoing work in progress.

    Stepwise development of a product, like Toyota is famous for, is good business, and a great way to refine and idea once it is out there, but a hail mary attempt at something radical is needed now and then to break down barriers to progress and counteract technological stagnation. The Prius, which is now practically mainstream, was likely developed in reponse to the EV1. A bit of a pricey slow starter itself, it was developed as a further refinement of an innovative idea. GM was working on a hybrid version of the EV1 at the time as well, to get around the range issue (sound familiar?). Would the Prius have even been born if not for the radical work on the EV1? Who knows, but without some fearlessly misdirected few, those visionaries willing to take a risk on something different, we would certainly have no great strides in progress, no breakthroughs. Without the musings of the wierdos and daydreamers, and the support of those who catch the vision, we might all still be riding horses.

    Will the Volt save GM? Maybe not, but it won’t be what killed GM either. At best it would be a small but final nail in a very long coffin, filled with years of mistakes and neglect. Even if the Volt is a flop, or GM folds before it ever gets off the ground, the competitive development that the mere idea of the Volt has spurred is worth the price of admission. Innovation does not always come from those who are best at business, but hopefully a good idea grows to the point where it becomes good business. There is a world of alternative fueled concepts and production intent vehicles that have appeared in the past few years. GM is at least partly responsible for that, due to the EV1 and both the positive and negitive publicity it recieved, and the decision to move forward with the Volt. I don’t much care who gets the job done in the end, but without someone leading the charge nothing would happen at all. Despite all of the critisism GM has earned, I say well done for bringing us the EV1 and the Volt, if not because of what they are, but because of the products they’ve inspired.

    If the Volt is the swan song of a dying automaker, I can think of no greater epitaph than going down in flames while pushing the envelope of what’s possible. If that be the fate of the once great GM, then I say good on them for giving it the old college try.

  • avatar

    kgurnsey: “If the Volt is the swan song of a dying automaker, I can think of no greater epitaph than going down in flames while pushing the envelope of what’s possible.”

    They’re not exactly pushing the envelope of what’s possible but they’re pushing way beyond the envelope of what is economical to build and marketable to real people.

    “We built something that made no sense.” That’s a lousy epitaph.

  • avatar


    I think you’ve missed the point of my entire post, and pulled a statement made near the end out of context for your own purposes. The point I was trying to make, is that for real change to happen, someone needs to lead the charge from time to time. It’s not always the company in the best financial position to do so that is able or willing to lead that charge. In fact, the company in the best current financial position (i.e: Toyota) has too much invested in the status quo to do more than stepwise improvement of what is making them money. It’s good business, but it’s not good for progress. Progress needs things to be shaken up from time to time, and it’s often left to the underdog to do the shaking. Not always successfully from a business standpoint, but it does drive progress in the larger market. Right now, GM is the underdog, and they are doing some shaking. For that, I applaud them, because it takes some guts to go out on that limb.

    They may not be pushing the envelope of what is theoretically possible, but they are pushing the envelope of what a major manufacturer is reasonably capable of engineering and offering to the general public. They were the first major auto manufacturer in modern times to offer an EV to the general public at all, and the EV1 remained the most advanced of all the EVs developed at the time. GM was also one of the the first to jump back into the fray after getting chastised for dropping the EV1 program. They are certainly pushing the envelope of what is possible with current battery technology, if you take into account the fact that they are trying to make a pack that can essentially be abused and neglected by the average joe for over 100,000 miles. Compare that to a Tesla’s pack, which will be lucky to last 5 years if it’s babied by an EV fanatic at the wheel, especially considering that it’s much easier to design a long range pack than the shorter range pack in the Volt. An E-REV pack takes a lot more abuse by nature, so it’s much more difficult to produce an E-REV than an EV. If you take into account the added cost, size, and wieght of the genset system, that effectively prohibits the use of a large format EV battery in tandem with the genset. Size and weight also affect performance and how much power is needed, thus affecting the size of the pack as well. Unfortunately, to make an EV that can function as an only vehicle (i.e: not limited to being a second car, commuter, or city car) for the masses, it needs a way of re-fueling on the fly, and the technology and intrastructure for quick charging advanced batteries (within 5 mins) isn’t quite there yet, from a mass maufacturing perspective. Thus a genset is needed to extend the effective range infinitely using the current fueling infrastructure in place, which is required if the target is for the Volt to be capable of operating as someone’s sole vehicle. Fortunately, an E-REV will perform in EV mode for about 75% of the time for an average person, and the gensets coule be run off of future generation biofules (like cellulosic butanol, pentanol, or biogasoline) for the other 25% of the time, so it’s a good mid term solution to start getting away from petroleum. However, with the genset on board, a smaller battery is needed for cost, size, and weight reduction reasons, but that decision means that the pack design is more difficult and more critical. Starting to get the picture yet? It’s complicated from an engineering perspective. GM may have crap management, but they have some very talented engineers tucked away trying to solve all of these factors (and many many more) in such a way as to create a reliable end product. Many people really don’t get what is involved in engineering a system as complicated as a modern vehicle, given the demands and expectations that the public have. Engineering any system that is demanded to perform for 10+ years, under potentially extreme climates, at a price point, is by necessity an extensive series of very complicated compromises. There is no ideal solution. Pushing the envelope in that context is not an exercise in absolute technological superiority, but of achieving the best set of compromises possible given what is available at the time. In that regard, I would say that GM is pushing the envelope quite far.

    Other manufacturers are using other methods to get around the battery issue. Some are only developing EVs, thus simplifying the pack design, like Mitsubishi, Smart, or MINI, which are stuck being commuter or city cars due to range and recharge issues, or using blended series/parallel PHEV designs, like Toyota and Ford, none of which pushes the boundary of battery pack design the way the Volt does. You can argue that they are doing better business, and for some people EVs and PHEVs will be a great solution to thier needs, but in terms of pushing the envelope of engineering and battery design, GM is making better progress. That’s would be a great epitaph, in my opinion.

    If GM lives long enough to produce the Volt, it will be marketable in the numbers that they are planning on building at first. The Gen 1 Volt will not be marketed to “real people”, if you are referring to the bulk of the population from an income standpoint, so get over it. Those people will have to wait (me included at the moment). Considering the first year run is expected to be about 10,000 units, there will be more than enough reasonably well heeled people lined up willing to pay 40 grand for one, even before the bail out bucks are tacked on. The demand is there, in spades, for the volumes GM will produce at first. The Volt is designed to be an E-REV for the masses in time, but it’s too bleeding edge to be priced in the twenty-something range right out of the gate. The difference between that and, say, a Caddy version is that the price for a high end Voltec model would be even more expensive, luxurious, and limited to the high income/net worth clientele. The price for that type of model would never have been intended to drop at all. The Volt is designed to come down in price as economies of scale kick in for the battery. Economies of scale don’t just happen instantly though, these things take some time. As production ramps up in subsequent years, and different models using the Voltec drivetrain are produced for different markets, the price will fall to the point where the Volt, and/or some future lower cost Voltec model, will be marketable to “real people” at a profit. By then though, GM will have proven to everyone else that, yes, in fact it could be done, it can be done, it has been done, and they will have opened up a whole new market to be refined and made profitable.

  • avatar

    As a side note, I totally respect Aptera for what they are doing to show what is possible in terms of aerodynamics, low weight, connectivity, composites, and overall efficiency. Very cool vehicle.

  • avatar


    I understood you fine. I disagree. GM is not a government-sponsored automobile lab, they are an automobile business. It would make sense for a business to develop the Volt against a background of positive cash flow and profits as a long-range project but a crash project to take the car in a different direction is not what you do when you’re on the ropes. At least, not without a business plan that shows a profit.

    As far as I can tell, it’s a transparent ploy to get money from Congress. GM claims to be building something of strategic importance to the US, an electric vehicle that no one can afford to buy and which they can’t afford to build which will be available in two years in negligible quantities and then in miniscule quantities for some time after that.

    Where’s the strategic value in that? As opposed to, say, putting a $2/gallon tax on fuel? Or some CAFE legislation with teeth? The Volt has less impact on our energy posture than the Cobalt XFE and its benefits are obtained today at far lower cost.

    In fact, first, we must agree on strategic goals (reduction of GHGs, reduced oil dependence, cleaner air, more diverse energy sources for transportation use, higher profits for coal mines) and then look at how we might achieve them. Since we haven’t agreed on the goals, it’s really hard to say that any particular tactic (the Volt, for example) has any strategic value whatever.

    Given the Volt plan, it’s hard to say what sort of strategic goal the Volt could address.

    And if electrification of the automobile is somehow involved in achieving these goals, it’s not at all obvious that we need GM for that. GM lags in gas-electric drivetrains (they lag behind Ford, the number 3 automaker) and there are several other players (some with profits and cash to spare) working towards the same type of vehicles.

  • avatar


    While I see where you are coming from, I think we will end up agreeing to disagree. That’s ok, we each have our perspective.

    From mine though, it doesn’t make sense to develop something like the Volt against a backdrop of positive cash flow and profits. It makes sense to keep doing and refining what’s generating cash flow and profits, i.e: the status quo, and hanging on to that cash flow as long as it’s viable. Which is why the oil companies, and big auto, have been holding onto the ICE for so long. If you take that idea too far, and start resisting change too much, then you start to miss out on opportunity, get behind the curve, and end up like GM. Incedentally, this is the way Toyota seems to be heading at the moment, to my eyes at least.

    It’s only when you are on the ropes that you start looking for a hail mary, or at least a radically different solution of some sort. Much like Crysler did with the minivan, GM is getting hammered so bad in all the markets it currently competes in, looking to define a new market it can dominate is not an unreasonable motivation. Ultimately though, I’m just saying that a hail mary is needed from time to time, and we are at such a place of stagnation with the ICE, the time is now. The Volt drivetrain is intended to be profitable in the long term, and to be produced in mass quantities as soon as is feasible, so in that assessment I think you are a bit off. Gen 2, and it’s platform mates, should be a full blown mass market E-REV I would expect.

    The Volt was in play before the economic meltdown. It’s more a response to the outcry and demand for an EV solution brought on by the EV1 debacle. There is demand for EVs out there, to be sure, and I am very confident that there will be much more demand once people get a chance to experience thier benefits (as I have). As far as the bailout is concerned, I would point out that lots of businesses are getting government handouts these days, all across the world. GM is just one. Besides, if the government wants a business to produce a specific type of vehicle, for an ecological or other reason, it should pony up some of the cashish. It makes no difference if GM was already developing the Volt for their own ends. If the government has a vested interest in seeing it come to market, for whatever reason, they should front some of the cash.

    As far as the goal is concerned, we are working towards all of them (except perhaps the coal mine profits…). There is no simple solution to such a complex problem. All of the problems are important, and all of the potential solutions are worth trying. From a personal transportation perspective, the electrification of the automobile is a 10-20 year plan to implement fully. I agree that the next 5 years are not going to see enough EVs on the road to signifigantly reduce our dependance on oil, nor reduce the carbon footprint of our personal transportation, but we have to start somewhere. It will likely be an exponential adoption curve of some sort, so to say that we won’t see much in the next 5 years doesn’t mean that we won’t see major change within 10-15 years. But we have to get started at some point. The more we fiddle and screw around with refining the ICE now, which is in no way any sort of long term solution, the more behind we get on finding and mass adopting a real long term solution. There are no short term solutions that are really worth much anyways. The end goal is to stop using petroleum completely. That means we need to start the process of ditching the ICE completely, now. The Volt provides a platform for real change in the mid to long term, that can get the ball rolling on the roads of the world within the next couple years.

    There are other players in the game now, as I mentioned as well, but I would argue that GM is the one that spurred the majority programs that have been developed recently by other manufacturers. Certainly Toyota and Ford had no plans for a production PHEV any time soon, let alone EVs, and I would guess that is the case for most of the big manufacturers. Like I said, I don’t care who get’s the job done, but someone needed to let ’em hang out in the breeze first. That was/is GM.

  • avatar


    GM has a cash burn rate that took them out of business 40 days ago – except for the largesse of the taxpayer.

    The Volt is being introduced in negligible volume in 2010Q4/2011Q1. No significant revenue until 2012. Maybe. GM itself has guaranteed this car will lose money for years.

    You’re saying it’s OK, admirable even, to sink a couple billion into a Hail Mary play that saves you two or more years after you’re dead?

    I can’t agree to disagree. That’s just wrong.

    I also don’t believe GM is the spur that’s goading Toyota or anyone else into doing anything. Battery-powered vehicles have been looked at for decades and people come around and look again every few years. All the major auto companies do it. The competition probably thinks GM has ADD on this, anyway, and the Volt will never happen (certainly won’t if GM goes belly-up).

    It’s more interesting to contemplate what is said to have spurred GM to action – Tesla! I couldn’t believe it when another netposter said so, but I’ve since seen it reliably reported that Lutz threw a fit over the Tesla and its a-few-K-per-year boutique manufacturing plan for a $100+K car of extremely limited utility. Uh… Bob? You never noticed that Toyota was selling 150-180K Priuses per year and making money on them? The GM that’s capable of building over 4 million vehicles per year is worried about a crew that’s jamming laptop batteries into a midget car hand crafted by Lotus?

    Both Toyota and Ford can build RE-EVs by removing parts from their existing cars. Both Toyota and Ford – and I don’t think this is coincidence – have declined to go the Volt route, saying it’s uneconomical. Both Toyota and Ford have working hybrid programs. Toyota has recently said they think 20 miles AER is a sweet spot and it looks very much like they, and Ford, will hit this with their HSD and HSD-like systems.

    They’re handicapped by the same thing that’s going to be problematic for GM; is a suitable battery ready? What’s going to happen when a suitable battery is ready is an evolutionary step that everyone can take. For Toyota and Ford, it’s like a better D cell – just buy one for your existing flashlight.

    Toyota and Ford won’t even have any outrageous development cost on this; it’s a tweak to existing product.

    From the consumer’s perspective, capability and cost are the drivers. The consumer isn’t really going to care how anybody’s system works (although they’re more likely to trust the leader).

    For reasons I can’t fathom, GM didn’t even go all the way on this. Their vehicle has a higher Cd than the Prius, leaving the door open to situations where the Prius will beat it on fuel economy (unrefueled long-range 70mph travel, for sure)

    GM’s welcome to do this, if they like, but it’s just an act of vanity on Bub Lutz’ part. Like blowing your brains out with a pearl-handled, nickel-silver .44 revolver instead of a cheap blued 9. The result’s about the same.

  • avatar

    Bob Lutz just announced that he’ll retire at the end of 2009. That can’t bode well when your biggest champion decides to punch his ticket before the ride begins.

  • avatar


    It’s not just plain wrong, it’s simply an entirely different perspective, and a valid one in my mind. Please do not dismiss my argument out of hand. I am not an idiot, I have watched the EV industry for some years, I’m an engineer and businessperson in my own right, and have given this issue some serious thought.

    I have not once said that it’s good business, in fact I have said several times that it is in fact not good business for GM, but there is much more to the world than just “good business”. I understand cash flow, building products that the public want to buy, and proftability. I understand the concepts of lesse faire capitalism, and know that, while an admirable philosophy in some ways, it is also idealistic and flawed in many respects. I agree whole heartedly that the path that Toyota and Ford are taking is better business, and have said so on mulitple occasions. Your argument is not lost on me, however we are arguing a point from completely different perspectives. You are still arguing from the stance of good vs. bad business, which I have agreed with you on. I am arguing my point from a perspective of pure innovation, and freeing us up from the technical stagnation surrounding the ICE. The Volt is a more complicated solution technically, due to the greater stresses and demands on the battery, but one with greater long term promise. PHEVs still rely on the ICE as the core of thier motive power. E-REVs do not. There is a fundimental, if not subtle, difference in thier approach and long term intent.

    The Volt may have been spurred in large part due to Tesla, but Tesla owes is heritige to AC Propulsion, the T-Zero, and ultimately the EV1. Yes, manufacturers have played with EVs off and on over the years, but the EV1 was the first EV in modern times to be produced by a major manufacturer to all current (at the time) safety regulations, as a real car, for sale to the general public, with potential for mass manufacturing. In this light it is signifigant, and the major reason for a resurgence in the popularity of EVs. GM proved at that time, to everyone’s surprise, that an EV could be produced, marketed, and that there would be demand for it (as much as they later tried to cover this up). They showed the world, and all the other major manufacturers who then clamered to catch up, that EVs could work. The outcry stemming from thier blatant reversal spurred companies like Tesla and Aptera to pick up where the major manufacturers had faltered, using the excuse of “good business” to give up on a good idea. Even the mighty Prius, hailed as such a technological wonder, is a lame duck compared to what could have been. GM was working on a 4 seater prototype EV1 with a range extender back then. We could have had a Voltesque car being mass produced years ago, if it weren’t for “good business”. The small companies, like Tesla, and the public support they garnered, in turn inspired GM to re-reverse, and build the Volt. Whether the decision to produce Volt itself spurred other manufacturers down the path of plug in cars, or they were all motivated by the growing support for plug ins, and challenges from Tesla and other small companies, is a debatable point, but like I said, all of that ultimately owes it’s existence to GM.

    Necessity is often the mother of invention. No greater technological strides are taken in times of need or fierce competition. Often the desperate are the ones who push the boudaries hard enough to truly innovate, and come up with a revolutionary solution to an old problem. Say what you will about bailouts and whether GM, as a busines, should be allowed to live or go into bankruptcy. Car companies are businesses, and should idealy live and die as such, but they are also the only entities in the world with the size and reach, given the extreme complexities of the modern automobile, to truly innovate and fundimentally change the way we, as a people, use personal transportation. They are much more than just a business, and to look at them only as such is simplistic in the context of a society, civilization, or global population. They hold the keys to the revolution we need in personal transportation, and they alone. Still, among the few major auto manufaturers that span the globe, one at least must push the envelope for that to happen. As far as innovation goes, and pushing the boundaries of battery technology, GM is pushing the hardest.

    As far as Max Bob is concerned, I could care less where he goes from here. His part has been played.

  • avatar

    I can’t help but wonder if the Volt will go the way of the Chevy SSR. A halo vehicle designed to up the corporation’s reputation more than anything else…

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