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.
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…
[Note: A significantly expanded and updated version of this article can be found here]
That air presented the greatest obstacle to automotive speed and economy was understood intuitively, if not scientifically since the dawn of the automobile. Putting it into practice was quite another story. Engineers, racers and entrepreneurs were lured by the potential for the profound gains aerodynamics offered. The efforts to do so yielded some of the more remarkable cars ever made, even if they challenged the aesthetic assumptions of their times. We’ve finally arrived at the place where a highly aerodynamic car like the Prius is mainstream. But getting there was not without turbulence.
After we posted our take on the reported ouster of EV startup Aptera’s founders, Popular Mechanics jumped in to deny the charge. The magazine dutifully reported that Aptera’s founders had conveniently decided to take a vacation, unquestioningly citing the assertions of Aptera CFO Marques McCammon. But it seems the underlying conflict– whether to go to market with the existing product or cut costs while waiting for federal funding to produce a redesigned vehicle– has been resolved in favor of Aptera’s new auto industry insiders. A company press release confirms that the 2e has been delayed until 2010, indicating that the lack of federal funding (or some unanticipated private investment) is the stumbling point. The situation with Aptera’s founders, however, is still something of a mystery. And it’s not the only curiosity to be dredged out of Aptera during this challenging interlude.
Wired has some fantastic coverage of Aptera’s coming-of-age struggles, which have been come to a head since the firm received permission to tap the federal ATVM loan program, the most important rite of passage for boutique EV startups. In short, the auto industry insiders led by Paul Wilbur, formerly of Ford and Chrysler, were delaying production for reasons that made little sense to the firm’s founders. One passage by Wilbur poignantly indicates the nature of the rift:
For months we have been receiving important feedback from you, our depositor community, and we have come to realize there were flaws in our initial product assumptions — specifically as it pertains to satisfying the needs of real-world consumers. Our greatest degree of learning came just a few months ago when we asked all of you to participate in a brief survey. This critical piece of research requested insights about your expectations for our company and our products, and we discovered a notable disconnect between our product plan and realistic expectations. Some modifications had to be made. For example, you helped us realize that some trade-offs for convenience (like being able to grab a burger in a drive-thru) might be necessary to make the ownership experience more palatable, even if it cost us a couple tenths of a point on our drag coefficient.
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.
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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- Dusterdude @SCE to AUX , agree CEO pay would equate to a nominal amount if split amongst all UAW members . My point was optics are bad , both total compensation and % increases . IE for example if Mary Barra was paid $10 million including merit bonuses , is that really underpaid ?
- ToolGuy "At risk of oversimplification, a heat pump takes ambient air, compresses it, and then uses the condenser’s heat to warm up the air it just grabbed from outside."• This description seems fairly dramatically wrong to me.
- SCE to AUX The UAW may win the battle, but it will lose the war.The mfrs will never agree to job protections, and production outsourcing will match any pay increases won by the union.With most US market cars not produced by Detroit, how many people really care about this strike?
- El scotto My iPhone gets too hot while using the wireless charging in my BMW. One more line on why someone is a dumbazz list?
- Buickman yeah, get Ron Fellows each time I get a Vette. screw Caddy.