Google.org Invests in Electric Car Startups

Battery startup ActaCell wasn’t the only recipient of funding from Google.org’s RechargeIT program. Last night at the Plug-In 2008 conference, Google.org’s Director of Climate Change & Energy Initiatives, Dan Reicher, announced a $2.75 million investment in green vehicle startup Aptera Motors and ActaCell. (That’s $2.75 million between the two of them). Last month Reicher told us at its plug-in conference in Washington, DC, that Google was planning on making investments in green car startups through RechargeIT this summer.

While Google.org has had its plug-in vehicle research program for over a year now, moving to investing in startups is significant. Like Google has done for Internet and wireless, and has started to do for renewable energy, the step positions the search company’s RechargeIT program as an EV incubator and venture capital arm for the next-generation of cleaner transportation. As Craig put it after attending Google’s plug-in conference in June, the search giant has now added transportation to the list of industries it will attempt to revolutionize.

Aptera is a Carlsbad, Calif.-based startup that has been building a three-wheeled electric vehicle called the Typ-1, which will have an electric and range-extended versions. In March Aptera said after two years of research and development, it was ready to move into production of the electric three-wheeler that it says has recorded 231 miles per gallon. The company is hoping to bring its first vehicle to market by the fourth quarter of this year.

In December Aptera CEO Steve Fambro told us he started working on the car’s teardrop streamlined design some five years ago in his garage. And he said he sees the problem with the world’s transportation as the fact that “cars are not designed to be aerodynamic, they are designed largely as furniture.”

The company previously raised funds from Bill Gross’ Idealab and Esenjay Investments, and Fambro told us in December that it was in the process of raising its Series C round. Fambro predicts that the company’s capital costs can be pretty low to build three-wheelers and told us “To do something like this you need under $20 million dollars.”

But don’t count it out as a niche three-wheeler just yet. The company is planning to sell the cars for under $30,000 and Aptera is also working on its next generation of more mainstream electric vehicles that the company hopes to offer down the road. Fambro says the company expects to be profitable once it has sold 2,000 vehicles, forecast to take place in the second years of sales.

Google.org also invested in lithium ion startup ActaCell through its RechargeIT program (which we wrote about here.) Google.org contributed to ActaCell’s Series A round, which also included DFJ Mercury, Applied Ventures and Good Energies, and totaled $5.8 million.


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