Thursday, December 29, 2011

"What is that thing?" Aptera Closes Doors

If you have been driving around the northern part of San Diego county during the past 4-5 years, you may have seen this oddly shaped vehicle on the streets.  It looks like an early Honda Insight mated with a small aircraft and this being the result.  You may have thought, "What is that?!?" 

This 3 wheeled car is from the company Aptera, who was developing the car as an alternative to gasoline powered choices.  The vehicle pictured is the 2e, which was proposed to be an all electric vehicle with a driving range of greater than 200 miles.

The company was slated to release these vehicles along with a traditional 4 wheeled version with a price range between $25-40,000.  However, the company was not able to secure a loan or raise enough capital, and as a result, they recently shut their doors earlier this month. 

I applaud the company for their efforts and creativity.  As eccentric as the car was, it was nice to see people pursue their dream.  The tough reality is trying to sell the product.  I believe there were a couple things stacked against the company which led their demise, not including them being unable to secure a government loan.

The first is the design.  Yes it is bold, unique and aerodynamic.  That does not mean that it will be a hit.  Look at the first generation Honda Insight.  That vehicle had the highest EPA fuel economy of any vehicle at the time, but it was not a very good looking car.  Not surprisingly, the car did not sell well either.  As something to promote initial awareness about the company, the 2e was great, but not that many would consider driving it themselves.  The 3 wheel design is also not for everyone.  A 4 wheeled vehicle would have greater appeal to the consumer market, like Tesla with their Roadster and upcoming Model S.  

The second is that the 2e is all electric with no option of gasoline power which limits range.  There are not that many power stations to recharge the battery yet in the U.S. and because charging requiring several hours, it is not convenient.  Like any battery powered item, I believe some potential consumers are also concerned about battery life diminishing as the product ages.  Will the process take a couple years before the battery becomes too weak at a full charge, or a decade?  The range was stated to be >200 miles, but using items such as the radio and a/c would definitely reduce that mileage, and it was not stated if that was with city or strictly highway driving.  Range anxiety would be a major concern especially if traveling at night.

Finally, how would servicing be handled?  Unlike some kit cars or even current EV cars such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt which have parts based on existing models, it looked like the 2e was a one off make which could have been expensive to maintain.  It isn't like a customer could go to a Napa or O'Reilly parts store to order items. 

I do hope someone can pick up where the company left off and produce an aerodynamic vehicle (perhaps with 4 doors for a start), but maybe with a little help from a small gasoline or even diesel engine for propulsion.  Once the company is able to make a footprint in the market, an all electric model or 3 wheel version could then be introduced. 

Your thoughts?  Anything you want to do differently if in charge?  Happy motoring and keep on driving!

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