By on September 16, 2009

Three into four does not go... (

The WSJ reports that EV manufacturer Aptera is asking the government for $75M from its energy-efficient retooling funds. Unfortunately for the makers of the Jetsons-inspired 2e, there’s some debate about whether its three-wheel design makes it a car or a motorcycle. Which means the gravy train could be delayed at the station. The Department of Energy has already rejected Aptera’s request for this reason, but Congress is wading into the issue at the EV maker’s request.

The new rules, approved by the House but still waiting for Senate and Presidential support, change the definition of energy efficient cars to “any fully enclosed vehicle designed to carry two adults and that averages at least 75 miles a gallon.”

But this ruling has other automakers in a frenzy, specifically GM which is “counting on” $10B worth of retooling loans. “Novelty vehicles are not really the ones that will help the U.S. address the growing concern over U.S. oil consumption,” say GM’s snarkiest spokesfolks. Novelty vehicles? Just what does that make the Volt?

But don’t count Aptera out yet. Not only are some of its biggest backers prominent Democratic Party fundraisers, the firm also claims that it doesn’t need retooling loans to begin production. In that sense, their wacky three-wheeled car of the future is in better shape than GM’s Volt.

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33 Comments on “Aptera Three Quarters of the Way to Government Funding...”

  • avatar

    It’s not a motorcycle, at least not as defined in my state’s motor vehicle code. GM’s objections sure seem to be the pot calling the kettle black.

  • avatar

    I’ve gotta be honest. I couldn’t really see myself driving something that looked like that unless it could fly…

    “Meet George Jetson…”

  • avatar

    “Novelty vehicles are not really the ones that will help the U.S. address the growing concern over U.S. oil consumption.”

    A lack of novelty is what got the US into this mess, and it’s going to take some novelty to work our way out of it. I just wish that GM could see that doing the same things you’ve always done is not going to have a different outcome.

  • avatar

    “Novelty vehicles are not really the ones that will help the U.S. address the growing concern over U.S. oil consumption,” Yeah, what we need are more serious vehicles like the SSR and the HRT.

    Bancho wrote: “I couldn’t really see myself driving something that looked like that unless it could fly…” Wait’ll a Peterbuilt blows past you at 75mph on a winding two lane blacktop–pilots license or not it will be ‘off we go into the wild blue yonder..”

    GM is acting like a food-aggressive dog, none of the little dogs are going to get any even though GM has had a belly full.

  • avatar

    Here is quiz for you physics minded types. I know that it only takes 3 points to make a plane BUT isn’t a three wheeler tippy? (Think of the no-extinct 3 wheeled neckbreaker ATVs.) Or is that only the case where it’s one up, two back? Also, does having three wheels decrease the rolling resistance? The contact area is smaller, but the weight is pressing harder on the remaining the three contact points, so is there a net benefit?

  • avatar

    When regulating fuel consumption to new lows, expect to see these types of vehicles. Do you really think you can have an Escalade with the new fuel standards approaching?

    This reminds me that maybe Dick Rutan needs to be designing cars. He flew around the world with less fuel than my Hot Rod used, to get to the last car show.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    What if Aptera added a vestigial 4th wheel – would it then qualify for funds without having to change the law?

  • avatar

    NickR :

    That’s only the case with the single wheel in front.

  • avatar

    NickR: Three wheels do indeed reduce rolling resistance. But just as important if the drive wheel is in the rear it reduces the weight by reducing the complexity of the drivetrain. And as the article points out this has the added benefit of qualifying your car officially as a motorcycle. Every time there’s a major oil crisis these three wheelers make a brief comback; usually via a fly by night outfit looking to make a quick buck by grafting half a motorcycle to the front half of a golf cart and calling it the greatest automotive breakthrough since the steering tiller. The Aptera is more sculpted and specialized but basically the same concept.

    I think that if this sort minimalist transportation actually became widely used, the DOT, DOE, OSHA and Congress would do to them what they’ve done to all cars made in the US, legislate their design and manufacture into Sisyphean hell.

  • avatar

    panzer is dead on, save for the fact that qualifying as a motorcycle is not just an added benefit, it is the benefit. As a “motorcycle” the Aptera will not need to meet all of the same standards as a car. This makes a huge difference in the ability of a small company to produce a vehicle cost-effectively.

    It’s the same reason most of the Auto X-prize candidates are three-wheelers.

    And yes, if these types of vehicle take off you can be sure that they will be legislated to death.

  • avatar

    It’s hard to take this thing seriously.

    Advantages of the 3-wheel design? You only need one snow-tire.

    Whatever it is, it’s not a car…. and if the government deems it worthy of a cash infusion, then the car I’m building in MY garage should be worth some green too…

    By the way, what’s with the loooong tail? Is that where the propeller goes on the performance model? Seriously – it adds signficant length to the car, and I can’t believe that cutting it to a more reasonable length would measurably impact gas mileage.

    Oh, and one last question since we’re talking about crash performance – where’s the gas tank on this baby and how many gallons does it hold?

  • avatar

    dean is right.

    Aptera is trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want it to be called a motorcycle when it would benefit them (evading onerous regulations in the way a kit-built car does), but called a car when it could get them funding. Fairly hypocritical, but unsurprising.

  • avatar

    Lokkii :
    September 16th, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    By the way, what’s with the loooong tail?

    where’s the gas tank on this baby and how many gallons does it hold?

    Perhaps to provide crumple zones, if the cone isn’t enough of a deterrence to tailgaters.

    It’s EV.

    This car may look futuristic, but it’s actually not stupid. The interior room seems to be more than that in a Smart car and if it can provide pure EV functionality, why not?

  • avatar


    “Oh, and one last question since we’re talking about crash performance – where’s the gas tank on this baby and how many gallons does it hold?”

    It’s an EV.

  • avatar

    where’s the gas tank on this baby and how many gallons does it hold?”

    It’s an EV.

    Oh. Then the answer is zero. Uhm…. I have to go do something important now….

  • avatar

    I actually think the Aptera is one of the better ideas going. When they come out with a gas burner (which is the plan), I might actually want one. The cd kicks the crap out of anything else out there, and I like the fact that it uses motorcycle regs to keep the weight down. It actually looks like it could be a lot of fun to drive.

    I can’t say I really blame them for using the motorcycle regs to keep the design reasonable, and I can’t see why they shouldn’t get funding as a two-occupant vehicle. They are, after all, doing a pretty good job of solving the end problem; moving people with less energy.

    NickR – the T Rex pulls over 1g on the skidpad, as I recall. Not tippy.

  • avatar

    A couple of things notes.

    First, Paul Van Valkenburgh did some testing of various three wheel designs and compared them to 4 wheel designs. This testing included more than stability, but also under/over steer. I forgot the exact results, I believe it was an SAE paper, but a well designed three wheeled vehicle was just as a good as a four wheel vehicle.

    Second, the first Aptera prototypes were rear wheel drive, but the production ones will be front wheel drive. For some reason it ended up being better. Plus, you would not want one snow tire because you still want to stop and steer.

    Third, the three wheels allow for some aerodynamic advantages.

    Fourth, Burt Rutan designs the planes, his brother Dick flew the voyager.

    Fifth, the tail is important for aero dynamics and also they are using it for storage. A shorter tail would not only increase the drag, possibly significantly, but also mean less room for luggage.

    My big question is if they are actually going to crash test the thing. At first I guessed they were not going to, but they I read an article somewhere that said they were going to meet crash regulations for a car. If that is the case and they meet their target weight and cost, I will be really impressed. They supposedly are using a novel composite design for the structure, so maybe they will. If they actually meet all the car regulations, except for the 4 wheels thing, I say they deserve the loan even if they are technically a motorcycle.

    Another question, if it is a motorcycle and your state requires motorcyclists to wear helmets, do you need to where a helmet when you drive it?

  • avatar

    Link to Aptera website for more information on the car and company:

  • avatar

    If the Aptera is a “novelty vehicle” what does that make Tesla, Fisker and Carbon Motors?

  • avatar

    @chaparral66: Whether the 3-wheelers qualify as a motorcycle or not and the resulting helmet requirements vary state-to-state, which is why Aptera will only be selling in California.

    Which I find unfortunate, because Virginia’s motorcycle and helmet laws seem to be fully compatible with Aptera’s business model (and there’s bound to be some NoVA DC-types who would love to floss this greenery).

    According to Virginia law three-wheeled motorcycles with non-removeable roofs, windshields, and enclosed bodies are exempt from the protective helmet requirement.

  • avatar

    First, Paul Van Valkenburgh did some testing of various three wheel designs … but a well designed three wheeled vehicle was just as a good as a four wheel vehicle.

    In light of this, and other advantages mentioned here, it’s hard not to believe that these won’t become at least familiar if not commonplace.

  • avatar

    So, being classifeid as a motorcycle and requiring a motorcycle license to operate are two separate things? I ask, because my initial statement was based on the fact that I know two people who have three wheeled toys (can’t remember the manufacturer’s name right now), and they are not required to have a motorcycle license to drive them.

  • avatar

    By the way, thanks for the link. Depending on price, it sounds much more practical than a Smart car. It actually has room for shopping bags, etc.

  • avatar

    Sweet looking ride, but I’d always be looking up looking for gawd’s swatter.

  • avatar

    Parallel parking that thing would be confusing.

  • avatar

    Automobile had a test a few months ago.

  • avatar

    I think the Aptera looks really cool and I love the focus on efficiency.

    Aptera claims that one doesn’t need a motorcycle license or helmet to operate the car in California (though I couldn’t seem to find any specific exclusions on the DMV website I’m sure they’ve done their homework).

    Another benefit in California is that as a motorcycle, one could drive one of these in the HOV lane alone without having to beg the DMV for one of a limited number of permit stickers like on hybrids.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I love it.

    The single rear wheel reduces friction, but also supports only the thin rear fuselage not a fat ass square rear.

    Put a 400CC bike engine in it and I want it. GSXR400 type. Or even a medium performance middle weight twin. Say Ninja 650 mill.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Single wheel at the front trikes have problems if you brake in a turn, they can, and do, roll over. One design of kit trike I looked at would roll at 0.4g latacc, 0.3g braking, using about half of the tire’s capacity.

    The analagous case for a single wheel at the back trike is accelerating hard in a turn, which is far less likely, unless you are being silly, and of course with front wheel drive it is a self limiting condition, with a normal diff.

    Aptera is the sort of car we’d all commute in, if there wasn’t a legacy fleet around. But there is.

  • avatar

    +1 on the gasoline model… I would seriously rock one of those cars… errh… bikes… errh… things.

    It’s absolutely beautiful. The essence of minimalist motoring (without being so minimalist as to get you wet in the rain).

  • avatar

    I just had an epiphany… Google should buy Aptera!
    Funding problem gone and world car is born – think about it.

  • avatar

    @chaparral66: Whether the 3-wheelers qualify as a motorcycle or not and the resulting helmet requirements vary state-to-state, which is why Aptera will only be selling in California.

    I’ve been on the Aptera mailing list for awhile and I seem to recall that the reason they are staying in California is to keep customers near the home base of Carlsbad, CA instead of supporting a network of repair/dealer centers all over the country. It wasn’t because of California’s laws — just a desire to keep the initial customers nearby. FAQ entry #1 under Ownership and #1 under Misc:

    hiptech: Aptera probably isn’t in Google’s business model but they are an investor: (or just search for “Google Aptera”)

    stevelovescars: In California, helmets are not required if the enclosed vehicle meets certain size minimums (>= 7′ long AND >= 4′ wide AND >= 900#). According to the Aptera Wiki page, it meets all the minimums. and

  • avatar

    I have been following the development of the Aptera since I first placed my deposit on a Type 1H 2 years ago. During development, Aptera sent out a questionair on different options that consumers would prefer and took many desires into consideration to fine tune the production model. As the company grew and hired more mainstream auto manufacturing execs, they also drew on their expertise in refining the design of the drive system and manufacturing expertise. If anyone has ever ridden a motorcycle, you would be familar with avoiding the water covered oil spots at @ intersections because they are extremely slipery. This was my only real concern when I ordered my Type 1. Another trick feature of the Type 1 were the two lcd panels in the dash that acted as side view mirrors that displayed the images produced by the cameras embeded in the sides to reduce drag. It was a great engineering idea but a bullseye for a sleasly attorney argueng for his client who didn’t see the car passing in his “mirror” when he looked. Yea, it sounds crazy but a Donzi powerboat owner, in Miami, sued the manufacturer and won because after hitting a seawall and killing two passangers, he explained that the dealer didn’t show him where the brakes were. I ‘m guessing what’s why the Type 2 has mirrors and two wheel, front wheel drive..Saftey
    As far as the government funding, I stronglt believe that it should qualify. In the early days of avaition we had bi-planes. when we removed one wing, was it no longer a airplane? Think about it. Inovation allowed us to develope much faster, quicker and safer aircraft. If we allow and support Apteras’ approach to thinking outside the box, I’m sure we will be rewarded with comparable results.

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