By on October 19, 2009

All just a little bit of history repeating (

Congress has passed legislation qualifying three-wheeled vehicles for federal subsidies by classifying them as advanced technology vehicles. According to Automotive News [sub], the legislation has passed the House and Senate and should be signed by President Obama by week’s end. The classification is crucial for firms like Aptera to secure the federal Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program funds that have been critical for firms like Tesla, GM and Ford. Aptera has asked for $75m, but efforts to include the three-wheelers like Aptera’s 2e have been criticized by GM, which is waiting on $10b in Department of ATVM funding. So, on the one-hand you have self-interested, tax money-bloated firms like GM who want the money for themselves, and cottage industry EV freaks who call their three-wheeled designs “innovative.” But not only are three wheeled designs far from unique (they tend to show up in every major recession), they also aren’t cars. If the Feds are going to give money to to the makers of three-wheelers, which have to be licensed as motorcycles, they should have to allow electric motorcycle firms like Brammo and Zero to apply as well. After all, a $10k motorcycle isn’t any less ridiculous than a $45k Volt or a $40k Aptera.

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27 Comments on “It’s Official: Three-Wheelers Are Cars Too. For Subsidy Purposes....”

  • avatar

    “Shameful! Look how filthy black that kettle is” said the pot.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Is the Corbin Sparrow Meyers Motors NMG going to get federal subsidies, too?

  • avatar

    Something is very wrong here. You have ten government bureaucrats tasked with looking at business plans and passing out billions. These guys act like venture capitalists. But they have no experience and no accountability.

    Worse yet, the money they give out is in the form of low-interest loans. If the company they loan to fails, we taxpayers lose our money. If the company they loan to succeeds, we do get our original stake back, but no more. The venture firms that bought stock in the company get all the profits. No one in the real world would ever do a deal like that.

    Now too, we find that the loans are not passed out according to logic or merit. No, they are awarded based on lobbying.

    Shame on everyone involved in this fiasco.

  • avatar

    So does this mean that ZAP can get federal subsidies? I tell you, those Zebras will definitely accomplish the ATV goals.

  • avatar

    Well why not. After all, the electric car tax credit in the stimulus applies to road-worthy golf carts, as the WSJ reported. So a bunch of people are getting free golf carts. (Or getting paid net $2,000 to buy a golf cart and lease then sell it back to the merchant.)

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Looks like the lads at Morgan should dust off some 70-year-old plans, buy some surplus engines from Harley-Davidson (since James A. Prestwick is long gone) and open up a shop in Atlanta.

  • avatar

    Anyone producing or buying a 3-wheeled car is just trying to make some sort of point. The market will kill them off, regardless of government largess to the contrary.

  • avatar

    The Aptera and the Volt have their places in the market but not at $40k. Neither IMO will be anything more than a curiosity at $40k. Economically, buyers will continue to buy Priuses until the next generation of hybrid and EV’s are priced at points that make sense to buy them. Difference is Aptera is only planning on 20,000 production capacity while GM is looking at 100,000 plus. At $40k both are wildly optimistic predictions.

  • avatar
    the duke

    Harley is hurting so bad they axed Buell. They also now have a factory built trike for sale. How long until Harley petitions taxpayers for “energy efficient” Electra-Glide? I would if I were them.

    This is a ludicrous loophole. Big enough for a fat hog to ride through.

  • avatar

    Here’s a radical idea. Build stuff. Sell it. If people buy, stay in business. If not, go out of business. That applies to all of the car makers from Aptera to Zebra, including the (not so) Big Three.

  • avatar

    Many large Motorcycles are not actually not very efficient.

    Some 1000lb motorcycle with a 120hp 1200cc V twin only gets 40 mpg. Probably because most of them are old technology and don’t use fuel injection , MAFs or oxygen sensors.

    If we are going subsidize the big 3 I don’t see any problem with helping Harley which until recently was a big exporter. (not sure now).

    The more people who ride motorcycles the better it is for everyone. But lets make these things meet emissions and get more fuel efficient.

    And no I am no longer a biker.

  • avatar

    Rod Panhard,

    You were reading my mind. With a 23% decline in sales from ’08 and the demise of Buell [sigh] H-D probably has heaps of motors lying around. (Who woulda thunk it – multiple Morgan refrences worked into the comments today?)

  • avatar

    Actually, Harley could always resurrect that three wheeled car (Tri-hawk? My memory for names is slipping) they started to make in the 1990’s, but dropped out on. And if my Springer can do 50mpg on a long trip, one of those should at least outdo a Smart or Fusion hybrid – and without any fancy battery technology.

  • avatar

    @Rod Panhard

    John Alfred Prestwich not James A. Prestwick

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    I’ve got no problem with 3 wheeler cars, so long as they have the single wheel at the back. What bugs me is when they don’t have to meet the FMVSS regs (etc). Is that tacit acknowledgement that maybe the regs are part of the ‘problem’?

  • avatar

    Does the Can-am Spyder qualify ?

  • avatar

    The idiocy of this is just stunning. If congresscritters really want to regulate, why don’t they permit kei cars or something. Jeez.

  • avatar

    When it needs to meet safety and emissions standards, the manufacturer calls it a motorbike. When it needs federal money, the manufacturer calls it a car. Nice.

    I remember the “Mr. Bean”episodes (you know, the original Mini driver) where he always cuts off the three-wheel-car and it tips over :-)

  • avatar
    Stu Sidoti

    Greg Locock and kaleun +1….Aptera for example is walking that doubled-edge sword of claiming they will meet safety standards, yet will not be specific as to which ones they will meet; DOT? FMVSS? NHSTA? I’m very curious as to what tests that they are willing to submit themselves to.
    The Feds are essentially endorsing the validity of a vehicle to hit the roads ‘like a car’ that does not have to meet their own mandated safety standards. Now that the Feds are loaning them money, how long until someone gets hurt in a 3-wheeler and sues the Feds for ‘allowing’ the vehicle to be classified in a manner that does not enforce safety standards? Hmmm…

  • avatar

    Moose test that thing!

  • avatar

    The Feds are essentially endorsing the validity of a vehicle to hit the roads ‘like a car’ that does not have to meet their own mandated safety standards.

    No, they are not. The federal government is just saying that three-wheeled cars can qualify for certain loans. That has no effect on federal safety regulations.

  • avatar

    I bet that thing pulls almost .5g on the skidpad (with a shower of sparks). Not too shabby

  • avatar

    So, since this is actually about the Aptera, why not show a picture of it?

    Showing that dorky old POS is merely inviting derision of three-wheeled vehicles across the board – the Aptera is light-years ahead of it.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    One thing the Aptera has going for it, is that it is constructed logically for a three-wheeler.

    Two wheels in front to stabilize it on corners, one in the rear.

    Unlike the infamous “plastic coffin” Reliants (as nicknamed by the Bobbies, apparently)

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    ExPatBrit: Many large Motorcycles are not actually not very efficient.

    Some 1000lb motorcycle with a 120hp 1200cc V twin only gets 40 mpg. Probably because most of them are old technology and don’t use fuel injection , MAFs or oxygen sensors.

    Which thousand-pound motorcycles are you talking about? The largest production motorcycle I can think of is the Triumph Rocket III that tips the scale at around 700lb and has a 2300cc 3 cyl water cooled motor. It has been fuel injected (using MAF, oxygen sensors and the usual computer) since it was introduced in 2005. Furthermore, almost all modern bikes are EFI.

    The only motorcycle I can think of that is around 1,000 lb is the Boss Hoss, which is a custom built motorcycle that uses either a 350 or 500 cubic inch Chevy V-8 motor and a two-speed automatic transmission. Those things are heavy pigs but are only produced in very small numbers (for exorbitant prices.)

    Most big V-twin bikes in the 1200 – 2000cc range (which includes nearly all Harleys) weigh between 650 and 800 lbs, depending on how much crap they have on them (fairings, saddle bags, trunk, etc.)

    And Edward, as to a $10k bike being “ridiculous” I can only assume you haven’t shopped for motorcycles lately. $10k is the starting point for many of the “boutique brands” like Harley, BMW, Triumph, Ducati, etc. and even the “big 4” Japanese companies will hit you for around that much for their more popular sport bikes. The big touring and sport touring bikes like the Gold Wing can easily hit $15k.

  • avatar

    He’s talking about a Spagthorpe Pitbull… LOL!

  • avatar

    To correct some misconceptions here.

    1) Just because an automaker now qualifies for the program doesn’t mean that they will receive the funds. This just means that they can’t be excluded simply because they’re three wheelers; there still will be DOE review of the application. Which only makes sense. That said, I think it’s very likely Aptera will receive the funds. As for Zap!? Sure, just as soon as someone genetically engineers a flying pig….

    2) Aptera is not “$40k”, just like the Volt is not “$45k”. The author of this post, in addition to trying to deride three wheelers by posting a picture of a Reliant Robin, deliberately choose the highest prices they could find. The price for the Aptera 2-series is “$25-$40k”, depending on “powertrain and options”. The three powertrains, in order of expected price, are 2g (gasoline), 2e (electric), and 2h (plug-in hybrid). So it’ll only be $40k if you buy a fully optioned out, leather-interior, etc Aptera 2h. I’d expect the Aptera 2e to start around $30k.

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