Monday, August 10, 2009

The Coolest Electric Car

Over the next couple of years, there will be several electric vehicles hitting the market. This is a good thing. The electricity that powers EVs can come from wind power, clean natural gas, or coal—options which are all cleaner than gasoline. Reducing our dependence on foreign petroleum will give the U.S. more flexibility in its approach to foreign policy. Politicians have been warming up to EVs for these reasons, and most of the major automakers have EVs planned. Of all the EVs planned, my favorite is the Aptera 2e.

Aptera Motors is a Silicon Valley startup that began as an experiment to design the most aerodynamic vehicle possible. That aerodynamics was the primary driver of the Aptera’s shape is, ahem, evident. The car looks like a raindrop, which is unsurprising because a raindrop is the most aerodynamic shape (Drag coefficient of 0.04).

The Aptera will have a Cd of 0.15, making it the most aerodynamic car in history (the EV1 holds the record now at 0.19) and almost twice as aerodynamic as the Prius and Chevy Volt (Cd’s of 0.25).

The entire body is one composite piece, making it very light and strong. The Aptera will weigh in at 1500 lb, less than half the weight of the Volt (3500 lb) and light enough to be manhandled by Dutch hooligans.

The result of the Aptera’s clever design is a car that will use almost FOUR TIMES less energy than a Chevy Volt. This means driving 100 miles will cost $1.13 in an Aptera, compared to $4.52 in a Volt and ~$10 in an average new car today (DC electricity prices).

This is in addition to lots of other cool features, like a PV panel roof that powers the AC so your car is cool when you get in, a built in computer named Eva that "likely has twice the computing power of any machine in your house", and the ability to sell electricity back to the grid when electricity price is high. The Aptera also isn’t as small inside as it looks, with more than twice the storage space of an Accord and more headroom than a Mini.

Unlike the Volt, the Aptera 2e does not have a range extender and will run out of juice after 100 miles. However, I don’t think this will be a problem since 95% of people drive less than 100 miles a day and over 50% of households have more than one car. I see the Aptera as a second family car, used mostly for commuting. (They're working on a range-extended version that will have a 650 mile range and get 300 mpg).

The Aptera will be going on sale later this year for ~$26,000. The Chevy Volt is expected to come in at around $40,000, but qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Aptera won’t qualify for this tax credit because it only has 3 wheels.

I think the Aptera represents a new paradigm in car design. The Aptera was designed with one purpose: get people from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Form follows function, and results in a car that is unique and looks cool. This makes me wonder why cars today look the way they do, and why they all look basically the same. Maybe its what consumers are used to, and what car companies think will sell. Hopefully the Aptera will challenge our conceptions of how a car should look and be used.

So, what do you think? Is the Aptera just another silly venture capital idea that consumers will pan, or is there a market for it? Will people buy a car that looks like it’s from Trek and only goes 100 miles between charging? Is the Aptera represent a new era for how we approach the automobile? Jay Leno sure thinks so!

8 comments:

  1. What happens when you crash into it a 70mph in a Hummer?

    One of the reasons cars look the way they do today, especially in America, is they've been conceived as part of a sort of safety arms race - if your car is bigger, taller, heavier, more spacious than the other guy's, your kids won't die and your legs won't get crushed by the engine when you get in an accident. Show me this thing being crash-tested and I'll get on the bandwagon...

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  2. Simon, Aptera says they're designing the car to meet federal highway safety standards and doing all the required testing (even though they don't need too, since the Aptera is designated a motorcycle).

    http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/03/17/aptera-rebuts-safety-concerns-of-its-three-wheeler/

    I agree that they need to demonstrate its safety, or people won't be interested.

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  3. I think the 3-wheel design is the biggest thing that would keep people from considering it as a regular vehicle. Its just too foreign, and it makes things that much more intimidating. Plus, as you well know, it channels any bumps and roughness directly into the driver's spine.

    Also, even with that damage resistent body people are gonna worry that its not safe and will get broken too easy. It looks like a toy where parts are just gonna fall off. I think it obviously can be safe, if people survive indy car crashes they can survive this, but the wheel-stalks are another design element that will be offputting.

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  4. Is it amphibious? The price is great compared to what I am expecting from the volt, etc. I've got enough confidence in the safety regulations to hop in one of these bad boys, but I won't be a first mover. We'll save that for the same people that bought the first iPhone and VCR.

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  5. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bcd92bfc-867b-11de-9e8e-00144feabdc0.html

    Today's Volt announcement: 40 mile range at 230mpg, $40k price tag.

    "GM and other carmakers are in talks with electricity utilities, municipalities and operators of car parks – such as big retail chains – to find ways of giving electric-car owners easy access to battery-charging facilities." As a more serious question, has anyone seen any good mid- to long-term projections for electricity demand should the plug-in vehicle become a major factor?

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  6. Geography Check -- Aptera is in San Diego County, not in the Silicon Valley.

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  7. Part of the problem with the looks of the Aptera is that they reinforce the meme that electric (or alternative fuel) vehicles are 'different' or 'foreign' or 'for others / hippies / yuppies.' I think part of what GM is trying to do with the Volt is to subconsciously communicate with buyers that the technology is mainstream, and thus reliable / dependable (whether that's actually the case is another matter).

    I think this is the right approach. If these things are to ever catch on in a big way, they need to stop trying to stick out. Of course everyone recognizes that the Aptera form is more efficient and less draggy. But if having an ultra-efficient form means that far fewer people end up using the vehicle, it sort of defeats the purpose. I would rather see millions of Volts (or Volt-like cars) than hundreds of Apteras.

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  8. While I love it and think it's very exciting, I fear it will always be a niche market car, like my beloved original Insight. I sold it when I started a family, because with no rear seat, there's no safe place for a child, regardless of how it performs in crash tests.

    For the niche market, I don't think the Trek look is a problem... plus I hope in the near future the types of cars available will diversify as automakers try more new things. I know that the unique look of the Insight was a selling point for me.

    I suspect the infrastructure limitations may be more of a problem - who will repair it (body work and everything else) and what will our charging options be? I took my Insight on many vacations (covering a lot of miles) because I knew that I could fuel it anywhere, and because it had plenty of storage space for the two people it could carry.

    Speaking of which, what does the Aptera's cargo space look like? And what is its curb weight capacity?

    I sincerely hope that it will be successful, and applaud new small automakers for going where the big boys fear to tread - high risk, but high reward for the right car at the right time. The Aptera might be it... let's hope so!

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