As the traditional automotive big guns ease their way into EV and alternative fuel technologies, the new wave of enthusiastic start-ups founded on an all-alternative premise aren’t necessarily enjoying mass buy-in.
After a high-profile start, EV manufacturer Tesla isn’t where it hoped it would be, and South Africa’s own Joule has yet to get to market two years after its launch. The latest casualty is one-time X-prize contender Aptera.
Honoured with a PM Breakthrough Award in 2008, Aptera went into liquidation in December. CEO Paul Wilbur said that despite conditional backing of about R1 billion from the US Department of Energy the company had been unable to attract the extra capital it needed.
Wilbur said the company had come tantalisingly close to reaching its goal. Its first product would have been a mid-size five-passenger sedan (similar to a Toyota Camry) that would be base priced at less than $30 000 (about R240 000) and deliver better than 1,25 litres/100 km equivalent.
The company had gone as far as entering discussions to reactivate a mothballed GM plant in Ohio. It continued development of its patent-pending composite manufacturing system that enables energy efficient vehicle production by drastically reducing vehicle weight – by as much as 30 per cent – while tripling its strength. This system effectively did away with the need to paint the vehicle, resulting in a massive production saving.
According to Wilbur, the Aptera formula of aerodynamics plus lightweight design through composites delivered measured efficiency of about 1,15 litres/100 km in tests at Argonne National Labs. In recognising it with a Breakthrough Award, PM declared that the Aptera Typ-1e (above) “could prove revolutionary, opening up a new automotive category of ultra-high mileage cars designed for real-world drivers and – at R264 000 – priced for them, too”.
However investors clearly were twitchy about the perceived low volume return of the company’s original three-wheeled design, so they reprioritised their product plan to four-door sedans. Sadly, that more practical approach wasn’t enough to attract the backing they needed.
Wallpapers: Visit New on the Block (February 2012 issue of PM) to download wallpapers of selected cars.