Aptera: New Funds, A123 Batteries, & Betting It All on Federal Aid

Aptera Motors, the developer of three-wheeled hybrid and electric vehicles, says it has raised new funds from NRG Energy (s NRG) and needs to raise a whole lot more from the federal government as well as private markets. Once that additional funding is in the bag, Aptera believes it can roll its inaugural vehicle — the aerodynamic electric 2e — into production within 11 months, the company told reporters in a press conference Wednesday afternoon where it unveiled the latest design for the 2e. This means that even if Aptera had all the necessary funding today, it would miss its previous goal of launching volume production in October 2009 by more than a year.

Aptera has also just named a couple dozen suppliers for the model. The upstart car developer that says it “can only compete thanks to federal loans” aims to source 90 percent of its materials by cost from the U.S., including major suppliers like Continental for the chassis and brake system, and Remy International for the motor. For the lithium-ion batteries, typically the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, Aptera plans to tap A123Systems (s AONE), a company for which Uncle Sam opened his wallet not too long ago.

According to a regulatory filing, Aptera raised $9.8 million in its most recent equity financing round, but CEO Paul Wilbur said yesterday that this represents just the first close in a round that remains open, and the company is “on the road to financial stability.” The startup is competing for the $10 million Automotive X Prize.

In addition to securing private equity investment, the startup is competing for the $10 million Automotive X Prize. But significant hurdles lie ahead on that road to a sustainable and profitable business for Aptera. The company says it has now requested $184 million through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program — up from the $75 million the company requested in its initial application for aid under the program.

As Lux Research senior analyst Jacob Grose told us in December, ATVM funding for Aptera’s three-wheeler looks like a long shot. He said, “I would imagine that four-wheeled vehicles will continue to get the nod given that…to date there has been no appetite in the U.S. for electric vehicles with less than four wheels.”

Until recently, Aptera’s biggest asset seemed to be its enthusiastic core of would-be early adopters, nearly 4,000 of whom had made deposits (fully refundable) for the 2e as of November 2009. But amid delays and changes to the design and company leadership, even that core group has tapered off. Last month Aptera revealed it the number of deposits has dropped to “roughly 3,100″ for both the 2e and planned 2h hybrid.

Photo courtesy of Aptera