Our colleage and Earth2Tech editor, Katie Fehrenbacher, published a nice interview last week with, Steve Fambro, founder of 5-year-old electric car maker Aptera. Cleantech is a crowded space — growing more so by the day — and Carlsbad, Calif.-based Aptera, with just 15 employees and apparently less than $20 million in funding, is the David in a field of several Goliath competitors. Prius has Google (I mean, Toyota). Tesla Motors has not only huge buzz, but $100 million in funding.
So how can a tiny startup compete? Fambro has a clever tactic: aim low; be quaint.
Rather than go head-to-head against Tesla or Prius with another full-sized car model, Fambro opted to launch Aptera with a cute three wheeler that is “more-furniture-like” than automobile.
…you can’t help but root for the startup’s almost friendly, outsider’s market position. Three-wheelers aren’t usually thought of as game-changing cars that could disrupt Detroit, or even compete with Prius sales. Even Fambro says, “We’re not trying to emulate GM. We shouldn’t even be thought of as a car company.”
It’s a strategy to make Aptera stand out, and hopefully snare a seat (or a maybe just a stool) at this very crowded table. If Aptera succeeds, then Fambro will add that last wheel and go mainstream.
The company’s plan is to use the three-wheeler to help establish the Aptera brand and generate revenues while it works on other “more mainstream” products. [Then] Apetra could one day fall into the category of a disruptive car industry upstart several years down the road. For now, Aptera just needs to get its first product to market, which they plan to do in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Fambro’s example is just one more lesson in how important it is to know your market, and your potential place in it, if you are to be successful. In a particularly crowded space, don’t try to ‘do it all’ right away. In this circumstance try turning an old slogan on it’s head: Aim low. Get noticed. Then aim higher.