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Summary:

Oh, what a difference a year can make. Last March, startup Aptera Motors said it had collected deposits from “more than 4,000 Californians,” each of them paying $500 (fully refundable) or $750 (“locked in”) to reserve one of the company planned plug-in vehicles. At the time, […]

Aptera 2eOh, what a difference a year can make. Last March, startup Aptera Motors said it had collected deposits from “more than 4,000 Californians,” each of them paying $500 (fully refundable) or $750 (“locked in”) to reserve one of the company planned plug-in vehicles. At the time, the all-electric 2e model was scheduled to enter production by the end of 2009. But Aptera has had to hit the brakes on that production schedule, and according to the transcript of a recent online “town hall” meeting with Aptera’s marketing team and some of its “supporters and depositors,” (H/T Green Car Reports), Aptera now says it has “roughly 3,100 deposits between the 2e and the 2h.” It’s hard to say how much those figures have been rounded, but the number of deposits has clearly dropped significantly.

It’s not entirely surprising that Aptera might see some would-be early adopters of plug-in vehicles slipping in their commitment to the futuristic looking models promised by a startup on shaky financial footing. In its short history, one of Aptera’s biggest assets — aside from deep-pocketed backers — has been its enthusiastic core of supporters. But the longer Aptera’s model is delayed, the more options those eager EV buyers will have in the marketplace from companies such as Nissan and General Motors, among others.

Aptera CEO Paul Wilbur has explained in recent months that “production and delivery will be tied directly to funding.” According to a November 2009 release, development efforts at the startup have “been outpacing the rate of fundraising,” and dwindling cash reserves forced the company to delay production of the 2e until 2010 (Aptera said in the town hall chat that it aims to launch production of the plug-in hybrid 2h 9-12 months after the electric model).

Hitting the new 2010 target, or any future production goals, and delivering vehicles to those 3,100 hopeful customers, will require Aptera to bring in fresh capital, and it’s banking on either a federal loan or private investment to come through. The company plans to provide more details about its status and future plans next month. We’ll be tuned in.

  1. Benjamin Branch Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    It’s such a shame that these electric vehicle start ups all seem to go down the same road, I never understood why they can’t just begin producing in limited numbers and slowly ramp production up. Seems such a shame.

    1. Governments have offered some mighty big carrots for companies that strive to ramp up quickly. Hard to resist, for better or worse.

    2. It’s called “economies of scale”. The larger your production rate, the cheaper it is to build vehicles. If you’re going to begin producing in limited numbers, you need to build it essentially by hand and that’s extremely expensive. That could work for Tesla, but, if Aptera were to follow this road, they’d be losing money on each one.

      One part of the problem is a series of bad decisions made by Fambro & co. in 2008. They had a nice fuel-efficient prototype called MK-0. But then, in their overzealous drive to make it more “user-friendly”/ less niche, they made the vehicle remarkably bulky (20% taller than Tesla, and almost as wide as a Hummer), and on top of that, they chose to add side view mirrors, which increased the coefficient of drag by almost a third. In process, their fuel efficiency was shot to heck. While they originally hoped to achieve 100 mile real-world freeway range with 10 kwh of batteries, by the time Detroit guys (Paul) got onboard, in became evident that the battery pack had to be bumped up to 22 kwh. Horsepower requirements had to go up as well.

      What this all comes down to, is that, as of today, Aptera guys have to pay at least 15k per vehicle, probably closer to 20k, to third-party suppliers just to secure the battery pack and the motor. And then they somehow have to build a vehicle around that, and retail it for 25k. Can they do that if they have to make vehicles by hand? Zero chance. Consider that the Leaf has a battery pack that’s only slightly larger (24 kwh), and they are looking at the $30,000 mass-production price point with minimal profits.

  2. “It’s such a shame that these electric vehicle start ups all seem to go down the same road, I never understood why they can’t just begin producing in limited numbers and slowly ramp production up. Seems such a shame.”

    Ask Paul that. :P

  3. Greg Washburn Thursday, March 25, 2010

    I’ve been a deposit holder for some time now. I’m very close to asking for my deposit back. It appears less likely that this company will make it mostly due to some bad decisions made by the Detroit execs they hired to run the company. It’s a real shame since this car is the best idea of any “green” vehicle I’ve seen.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Greg. What will be the last straw for you?

  4. The car was delayed because the new CEO, fresh from the auto industry, deep-sixed the original model, which was ready for mass-production. He ordered a larger, wider car with taller, wider doors (for fat people. sorry, it’s true), roll down windows for those McDonald’s fans who don’t want to leave the car, and most expensive of all, he ordered that the car would no longer have the simple belt-driven rear wheel transmission that would be cheap and easy to maintain. He ordered a redesign that made the car into a front-wheel drive. With transaxles and all the nonsense that goes with it. This was expensive in time and money. Now we have a bloated whale of a car that costs more and is no where near production because the CEO, who if you will remember canned the founders of the company, decided that the car wasn’t enough like a detroit model. His paycheck is no doubt guaranteed, and the company is now dying. No doubt, again, that he will sell the intellectual property of the Aptera to GM, which will make sure that the mules are crushed and the plans shredded. And he and the board will make some nice cash from that sale. America : where we make money from killing the future.

    1. Your information is incorrect. Front wheel drive redesign was started in January ’08. The first prototype with side view mirrors was sighted during summer of ’08, still under Fambro.

      And trust me, you don’t want a one-wheel-drive vehicle as your primary commuter.

  5. nameless37 said: “And trust me, you don’t want a one-wheel-drive vehicle as your primary commuter.”

    No, I don’t trust you. That’s ridiculous. Millions of people drive one wheel drive commuter vehicles every day. The Aptera used to be and maybe still is classified as a motorcycle. It used to be a lot lighter and something between a car and a motor trike. Now it’s just big ol’ heavy boat anchor that’s sinking fast.

    So disappointing. I was going to buy one. The people who invested in Aptera should jump on the company and beat it into shape.

  6. I’m with Greg… I try not to think too much about these jokers too much because I start to get angry. I’ve been on the waiting list for a long time (though not from the very beginning) and my patience has worn thin. They never address our demand for an updated production date and all they do is pat themselves on the back for doing such a great job with the design of the car. To say this company is ignorant and self-congratulatory would be an understatement. My decision to give the company until the end of this year to begin delivering to customers is GENEROUS. If they fail I’m getting my deposit back. I fully expect that my cancellation email will go out December 31st! This company has squandered our goodwill with their laughably shoddy PR and their pathetic attitude towards the very people who have supported their operations thus far. They’ve allowed other companies to overtake them in moving towards actual production of plug-in electrics. They seem to believe that their innovative design is enough to satisfy us and that they have no other responsibility to respond to our concerns. Their effusive enthusiasm about their Automotive X-Prize activities simply serves to highlight their dismissive attitude to those of us that want to drive these cars.

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