By on April 15, 2010

Are there two sadder words in the world of car design than “design intent”? Translated, the term actually means “the inevitable letdown after months (or years) of hype based on a buffed-and-polished prototype.” And for upstart California EV outfit Aptera, a slick, otherworldly prototype was a key to being taken even remotely seriously. Unfortunately, yesterday’s unveiling of the “design intent” Aptera 2e revealed a cheaper, droopier version of the vehicle Aptera had been collecting deposits on the strength of. Don’t believe us? Check out a gallery of prototypes after the jump, and compare for yourself. Besides, the vehicle wasn’t the only ugly part of Aptera’s presentation…

CEO Paul Wilbur told Autoblog‘s Jonny Liebermann that Aptera is still not, “fully funded,” but hinted that the $184m in federal loans it has applied for would fix that for about five years. Bummer about the financial viability requirements for ATVM loans. “One more financing hurdle remains” Wilbur reportedly said. “Aptera can only compete thanks to federal loans.” Accordingly, the vehicle is 90 percent content-sourced in the US (a point Wilbur was apparently quick to make after recent nasty rumors of a Chinese production strategy). So, what’s the holdup?

For one thing, Wilbur had to get the car from the striking but likely ruinously expensive prototype to the more pedestrian production-ready version. He tells Autoblog that the last year has been spent doing a lot of engineering, saying “We have to get it right the first time,” and even mentioning Yugo, DeLorean and Tucker as examples to avoid. Which, at least in the cases of DeLorean and Tucker, is an interesting way of justifying the booting of Aptera’s founders.

Ultimately, Aptera has a long road to whir over before get a chance to drive one of their freaky motorcycles. Even if the federal loans come through, they are now guaranteed to be beat to the coveted early-adopter market by Nissan’s Leaf, Chevy’s Volt and even, possibly, Coda’s EV. And then there’s the price issue. And the after-sale support issue. To say nothing of the fact that selling a motorcycle as a car based on its record-shattering .15 drag coefficient probably limits the market to wealthy nerds in the first place. But then, if Aptera knew its market, it probably wouldn’t be trying to sell this homogenized version of the founders’ freaky vision.

[UPDATE: A rep from marketing/communications firm PCGCampbell clarifies that this was a “design intent” model, and that “a ‘production intent’ version will be produced after the vehicle development is complete.”]

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20 Comments on “Aptera Unveils “Design Intent” 2e, Financial Woes...”

  • avatar

    A definite devolution. From “wow” to “yuck.” But Aptera is likely to still be alive. Let alone to hope to thrive.

    Thanks for your coverage of this.

  • avatar

    The prototype is actually pretty faithful to the original concept. Yes, it does droop a bit in places, but it is still by far the most futuristic thing you would see on the road if it actually is made to look like that.

  • avatar

    Sadly… it may never get from intent to production… but from initial reports, it IS running, and it’ll compete in the X-Prize. A win or a show at that might boost its fundability… MIGHT. But I’m not holding my breath.

    I so want one.

  • avatar

    The Aptera 2e? What’s next – the Aptera 2gs and the Aptera Lisa?

  • avatar

    So sad. Loved the early buzz. SOCAL doing what SOCAL can do with the automotive landscape. Now it’s going to crash and burn. Should’ve known when I wrote and asked for a site visit a couple of years ago and got the “for investors only” reply.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    If you are talking about the tail drooping, then I’d guess that was driven by aero, which is after all the raison d’etre of this design.

    I am always amused when the media and fanbois get all excited by showcars and stylist’s models, and then blub like teenager girls when the real thing gets tooled up.

  • avatar

    there’s this ad on tv espousing the values of a small FWD compact car, could be a GM could be a Ford, it doesn’t matter

    but one of the lines is this car is for folks who want an ordinary car “that doesn’t look like a science experiment”

    this is an obvious jibe at the Prius

    so what am i to make of the Aptera? the biggest opposition will be people who don’t wanna look like George Jetson (which will be everyone).

  • avatar


    Did you even look at the before and after pictures? The After model is what I would expect in the early concept stage just to get people/investors interested. The Before model is what I would expect for production. Smooth panels, not panel gaps. Side-view mirrors that didn’t negate the cd aspirations of the original. A windshield that flows with the car not one that looks like it was lifted from a kit car.

    Sorry to disappoint you. I’m not a blubbing teenage girl or a fanboy (learn to spell) but someone who appreciates good design and better execution.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    “The Before model is what I would expect for production. Smooth panels, not panel gaps. Side-view mirrors that didn’t negate the cd aspirations of the original. A windshield that flows with the car not one that looks like it was lifted from a kit car”

    Odd. Showcars are hand built, and are fettled and finished by craftsmen. As such the visual fit and finish is much better than production cars. Pre production prototypes are built off real tooling, although admittedly they are often still fettled somewhat to stop senior execs from going ballistic, a practice I have always disliked.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Its a joke.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Regardless of whether this is actually goes into mass production, I think the design is pretty interesting.

  • avatar

    Remove the tail and it looks like a platypus’ head.

  • avatar

    I’d actually like to see an example of a prototype that looked on par with final production version of the item. I don’t think such a utopian ideal ever exists.

    The panel gaps on prototypes are always better; primarily because prototypes tend to cost upwards to $1M to produce and are tweaked hundreds of times in order to look perfect. The prototype builders are also faced with the glorious benefit of ignoring any regulations or limitations imposed by supplier deliverables.

    It’s like that recent photo reveal where Britney Spears released her “pre photoshop” version of photos compared against what was ultimately published. Anyone that thinks Spears ever looked the way she was portrayed in publicity/advertisement shoots is a bit misguided.

  • avatar

    If this thing never goes into production, I so want to scan the photos and lay one up in glass. Preferably CF, but even in glass it won’t be too heavy.

    Just imagine how fast it’ll go with a simple lightly turboed Goldwing powerplant.

    The prototype was just so right, it’s a shame they had to try to mainstream it. Because, ya know, people will be cross-shopping it against a Caprice. Ugh.

    Another one loses the plot…

  • avatar

    Concept prototypes always look immensely better than working prototypes and production units. Which is why for Transformers2, released after the Camaro went on sale, Bumblebee was still the concept car.

    This car is rough, but it’s gone from a concept car to a working prototype… and working prototypes, as anyone familiar with spyshots of claptrap contraptions going round the Nurburgring, always look like dreck compared to the final production cars.

    Fix the panel gaps for production, tweak the shape a tiny bit, put some shell-strengthening creases in the flanks, and it’ll look great.

  • avatar

    Remember the Volt prototype and how different the production car looks? Some consideration has to be made for the real world, even with an out-of-this-world design.

  • avatar

    I think it’s less that they ‘mainstreamed’ it and more that they realized the things they had to put in it. Like the ‘droopy’ part under the cabin was for battery space, the longer nose probably because they’ve switched from single rear wheel drive to both front wheels driven. The side mirrors were added for driver visibility, and according to one of their newsletters didn’t have a significant impact on Cd. The narrower stance was in response to many concerns with the 8′ wide stance of the prototype being very difficult to fit in many parking spaces.

    I think them’s just the things that happen when you move from a prototype that doesn’t have to do anything but look good to something that actually would have to function for many people.

  • avatar

    The change that jumps out the most to me is the front wheel wells. They are like TWICE the width now but shorter. Not very areo friendly, its like a jet fighter with two bricks sitting on the wings. Maybe the original front bicycle tires (thin/tall) provided almost no grip in turns so they went with golf cart wheels (short/fat)?

    • 0 avatar

      Sadly, the Aptera is not a TTW (tilting three wheeler).

      One needs look no farther than MB’s F300 LifeJet proto to realize that you don’t need 275s up front to out corner (and skidpad) a C6.

      Look up some TTWs (just stick to 2F1R, they’re the only ones that matter) and be amazed at what 1 less wheel can accomplish.

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