With its stunningly-exotic "car of the future" looks, extremely high claimed fuel efficiency, and a projected price of under US$30,000, the Aptera was a car that captured many peoples' imaginations. Perhaps best of all, when the vehicle was initially launched, the first consumer models were slated for delivery by the next year - this appeared to be no pie-in-the-sky concept. After several years of pushing that delivery date forward, however, Aptera Motors announced last Friday that it was ceasing operations.
As early as 2005, California-based Accelerated Composites (as the company was then known) was releasing images of its proposed 330 MPG (0.71L/100 km) three-wheeled diesel/electric hybrid car. This incredible mileage was said to be due not only to the vehicle's aerodynamic shape - it was claimed that it would have the lowest drag of any mass-produced car in the world - but also to its lightweight composite construction.
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By late 2007, the company officially launched the Aptera Typ-1e and Typ-1h. The 1e was an all-electric model that had a reported range of 120 miles (193 km), while the 1h was a gas/electric hybrid that still managed a whopping 300 MPG (0.78L/100 km) - the diesel engine was dropped due to concerns over emissions. Both models had seating for two adults along with space for a center-mounted infant seat, and enough rear cargo space to carry 15 bags of groceries or two full-size golf club bags. Solar cells in the roof powered the "always-on" climate control system.
The 1e had a scheduled 2008 delivery date, with the 1h set to follow soon after. Hundreds of potential buyers from the California area (the first market in which the car was to be sold) put down US$500 deposits in order to be among the world's first Aptera owners.
By early 2009, no cars had been delivered, but the company had progressed to its all-electric Series 2e. We published a full list of its specs at the time. Among its improvements over the Typ-1s were aerodynamic side-mounted mirrors, and wider door openings that made getting in and out of the vehicle much easier. Perhaps the biggest change, however, was a switch from belt-driven rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive. A hybrid 2h was also in the works.
Volume production for retail deliveries was pushed ahead to October of that year.
Much as some people loved the Aptera's teardrop styling and three-wheeled configuration, however, it was perhaps a bit too extreme for the average buyer. The company decided to switch gears, and began developing a composite-bodied mid-size electric sedan that would be similar in style to the Toyota Camry. As word spread about the impending arrival of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, however, the prospect of an ordinary-looking car made by a small startup company wasn't drawing a lot of interest.
Although Aptera Motors did receive conditional approval for a US$150 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy's advanced vehicle fund, it was still unable to raise sufficient funds to begin production of the sedan. As of December 2nd of this year, the company officially shut down, laying off its work force of approximately 30 employees.
"We remain confident, even as this chapter closes, that Aptera has contributed new technologies to build a future for more efficient driving," president and CEO Paul Wilbur wrote in a statement given last week. "Through the dedicated staff at Aptera, our board and suppliers we have touched this future. All that remains is for someone to grab it. We still believe it will happen."
Source: Automotive NewsView gallery - 12 images