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Summary:

Aptera, the three-wheeled electric car startup, has yet to launch production of its first model. But already the company’s looking toward possible gas models. An Aptera exec weighs in on the company’s blessing and curse when it comes to negotiating supply deals.

Aptera, the three-wheeled vehicle developer based in Carlsbad, Calif., has yet to roll its first quirky electric car into production and it’s banking on federal loans coming through to make that happen. But already the startup is looking toward an expanded lineup. In terms of maximizing efficiency, “We think the EV is the quintessential Aptera,” Marques McCammon, Chief Marketing Officer for Aptera said at the Berkeley Stanford Cleantech Conference yesterday. “But we are absolutely looking at other technologies.”

McCammon explained on the sidelines of the event Wednesday in San Francisco that Aptera sees the all-electric 2e model as its “halo” vehicle, and still aims to roll out a hybrid version dubbed the 2h shortly after launching the 2e. But depending on demand, he said Aptera could drop an internal combustion engine into its basic aerodynamic design to produce a highly efficient gas car.

Back in 2007, Aptera founder Steve Fambro told us the company’s long-term plan called for using the three-wheeler to help establish Aptera’s brand and generate revenues while it works on other “more mainstream” products, and in 2008 he hinted at a “2g” model.

But Aptera’s friendly underdog image has suffered in recent months among even its once enthusiastic core of would-be early adopters amid delays and changes to the design and company leadership. The company said last spring it had collected more than 4,000 deposits for its planned plug-in vehicles, but by March of this year the number of deposits had dropped to “roughly 3,100.”

At this point, Aptera believes it can launch production of its inaugural vehicle, the 2e, within 11 months of securing $184 million in direct loans from the federal government and additional funding from private markets. That timeline means that even if Aptera had all the necessary capital today, it would miss its previous goal of launching volume production in October 2009 by more than a year.

McCammon says that young companies without the legacy costs of major automakers “can make very strong businesses,” out of the small portions of the market that aren’t big enough to attract big car companies’ interest. (See: “Finding a Niche in the Electric Vehicle Market,” GigaOM Pro, subscription required.)

For Aptera, which just last month named a couple dozen suppliers for the planned 2e (including battery maker A123Systems), McCammon said the startup’s small scale is “a blessing and a curse.” It means the company can be nimble, without a lot of bureaucracy.

But it presents a challenge for negotiations for components. The suppliers of the world are looking for volume and “staying power,” McCammon said, adding that some suppliers share the vision and others require a lot more time to build a relationship.

The right timing can help, too. Coda Automotive Chief Financial Officer Dan Mosher, who spoke on a panel at the event Wednesday, said Coda has been able to secure “some strong deals with suppliers,” during a time when the automotive market “was really under pressure” due to the economic downturn and collapse of some of the world’s largest car companies. In general, Mosher said 20,000 units is the threshold for suppliers to start looking at a car maker “differently from a metrics perspective.”

Photo courtesy of Aptera

Related GigaOM Pro articles (subscription required):

Finding a Niche in the Electric Vehicle Market

How EV Battery Startups Can Cross the Valley of Death

  1. The Aptera is doomed to fail. No one I know would be caught dead driving such an ugly vehicle. Oh mu God, it’s ugly. I think Tesla strategy of pushing high tech high performance vehicles will win the day. I want a Tesla now and someday that technology and beautiful design will be within reach of the average American auto budget.

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  2. @Khurt: you’re kidding right? I think the Aptera’s gorgeous. And far more reasonably priced than the Tesla (also beautiful).

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  3. Khürt, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re wrong to assume that no one you know would be “caught dead” driving an Aptera (how would THAT work?!?). Have you asked them? I seriously doubt you have.

    The Aptera is pure function. It is the ONLY vehicle designed to move through the air. All the rest are bricks by comparison. It is beauty in motion.

    Thankfully there are enough people who agree to give Aptera a fighting chance. I think you’re doomed to be wrong.

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