Earlier this month we reported on the Aptera Typ-1, a futuristic, aerodynamic, three-wheel electric car being developed by a company in Southern California who – if they aren’t in stealth – may as well be. But then again, who cares? Anybody who brings a car like this to market anytime in the next few years is going to sell them as fast as they can make them, regardless of whether or not they have a publicity machine.
|The Aptera Typ-1, with a drag coefficient of .11, may be the
first series hybrid in the world to go into full production.
Today we had the privilege to talk with Steve Fambro, Founder and CEO of Aptera, and we came away with some fascinating additional details about this truly revolutionary automotive innovation.
First of all, unlike what we inferred from reading Aptera’s website, the Typ-1 does not have a classic hybrid drivetrain, rather they have a series hybrid drivetrain, akin to GM’s concept cars, the “Volt” and its European counterpart, the diesel “Flextreme.” That is, the onboard gasoline engine is not connected to the drivetrain at all, it only turns a generator (at an optimum RPM) to power the electric motor which exclusively turns the wheels. To-date, only GM, Volvo, and Aptera have announced series hybrids, which we consider to be a long-overdue breakthrough in automotive engineering.
It doesn’t even begin to end there. The Aptera, using space-age composite materials, will be, by far, the most aerodynamic vehicle ever built, with a drag coefficient of .11. As Fambro put it, “why use extra oil just to push air out of the way?” The result is not only aerodynamic, but extremely stylish. People will buy this car for its extraordinary gas mileage, but they will also buy it because it looks really, really cool.
Here are some facts we were able to discern about Aptera’s Typ-1 and where they are on their path to offering production models to the public:
Aptera plans on offering an all-electric car, as well as a series hybrid car. An all-electric prototype is already in road testing, with the series hybrid prototype scheduled to be in road testing within a month. These are not the first prototypes, either, these are pre-production models with everything in place – down to the airbags, the space-age climate control system, and all drive-train elements.
Five additional pre-production prototypes are under construction; two for demonstrations and showcases, and three for more extensive road testing. For traction, the cars use a 19 kilowatt 3 phase AC electric motor that was custom manufactured for Aptera by a Southern California company. For the series hybrid, the onboard 16 horsepower gasoline motor and 12 kilowatt generator will work in tandem with a battery pack. The gas tank will hold up to five gallons; they haven’t made a final decision on its capacity. Fambro disclosed the series hybrid, on a dead battery running on gasoline only – would deliver 130 miles per gallon. For the all-electric version, the battery pack is planned to store 15 kilowatt-hours.
Fambro stated Aptera would like to have a variety of battery suppliers, that they want to treat their battery packs as commodities. He said they’ve tested an assortment of battery technologies, including nickel zinc, lithium ion, “lithiated” (less combustible) batteries, and even lead acid.
A key point Fambro wanted to emphasize is the extraordinary safety they’ve designed into the car via the steel crash cage frame combined with the sandwich composites, along with the crumple zones designed to absorb impact in ways that protect the occupants. He said they had just successfully completed 45 mph frontal offset collision simulations that demonstrated effective containment of the battery box. As he put it, there is “quite a bit of safety designed into the vehicle,” and they are making extensive use of state of the art crash simulation tools prior to beginning actual crash tests.
When we asked Fambro who the investors were he would only disclose that IdeaLab was the original investor, and that Esenjay Petroleum CEO Michael Johnson, based in Texas, has made a 2nd round investment. At this time these two entities are the only significant outside shareholders in Aptera, although Fambro acknowledged the company would secure additional financing prior to beginning full scale manufacturing.
And when will that be? It turns out Aptera may not only deliver the first truly next generation car in terms of aerodynamics, but also the first series hybrid, because they are on track to begin selling these cars in October 2008. Fambro said they intend to begin by producing 3-4 cars per day, and that by month 12 (October 2009) they intend to be producing 40 cars per day. And where? Right there in sunny Carlsbad, in Southern California.