Aptera's Electric Three-Wheeler Fuels One Big Debate & Lobbying Effort

Electric car maker Aptera Motors has deep-pocketed friends — it’s raised more than $24 million from investors including Google.org, Idealab, The Beall Family Trust, The Simons Family, Esenjay Investments and David Gelbaum’s Quercus Trust. But Uncle Sam has so far declined to pony up the $75 million in loans Aptera requested for its futuristic electric three-wheeler because the feds define an automobile as “any 4-wheeled vehicle.”

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that major lobbying dollars are being spent as some of Aptera’s backers kick up dirt over the issue in Congress. The House gave the green light for a provision in a spending bill before the August break that would change the highly competitive $25 billion Department of Energy Loan program to “include any fully enclosed vehicle designed to carry two adults and that averages at least 75 miles a gallon,” and require the agency to reconsider applications (like Aptera’s) that were rejected on the basis of the four-wheel rule.

That would give Aptera’s 2e, which the company says gets 100 miles on an electric charge with extreme aerodynamics made possible by the three-wheel design, a chance for the funding under the program. Aptera CEO Paul Wilbur says the company doesn’t need federal aid to kickstart its already-delayed production later this year, but the loans would help accelerate its expansion.

It’s hard not to root for the startup’s outsider market position, but it strikes me as an unduly risky bet with public dollars to back this first-gen model, given that so many companies are seeking funds for green vehicles with a better shot at mass market adoption than the 2e. However, Aptera founder and former CEO Steve Fambro described a plan back in 2007 to use the three-wheeler to help establish the Aptera brand and generate revenues while it works on other “more mainstream” products. When it comes time to seek funds for that more mainstream effort, then more power to ’em.