Much of the auto manufacturing industry
may need a tune-up, but Aptera Motors is shifting into high gear. Three
years ago, the tiny Vista, California, USA-based startup launched its
very first project with a grand ambition: to design an ultra-efficient
vehicle that delivered a safe, smooth ride.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
Traveling at a speed of 55 miles (88 kilometers) per hour, the average car wastes half its energy combating air resistance, according to
Aptera. So, when founder Steve Fambro first came up with the idea for a super-sustainable vehicle in 2003, the emphasis was on creating an aerodynamic shape that minimized drag and improved fuel efficiency.
“The shape was core to the design because the aerodynamics are the pillar of our approach to efficiency,” says Kurt Danielson,
mechanical engineering project manager at Aptera Motors and part of the original project team.
To minimize the effect of air resistance, the company conceived a three-wheeled electric vehicle with a body shaped like a teardrop—
and it would run with the aid of a small engine.
The idea held obvious appeal, but converting it to a functional vehicle took years of trial and error.
ARE WE THERE YET?
The absence of product or design “role models” meant there was no
guarantee the team could even complete the project—making it difficult
to establish a timeline and budget.
“Aerodynamics is an iterative process, and we run into issues that
aren’t expected,” says Mr. Danielson. “You need to plan for flexibility
when managing a project as novel as this one.”
To help guide the design process and control costs, Aptera made
efficiency a part of every project decision.
“Whether it’s engineering, manufacturing or purchasing, we work
together as a team to find ways to mitigate risks and make deliberate choices for each step in the process,” says Marques McCammon,
chief marketing officer at Aptera.
Within nine months of the project start, Aptera nailed
down a rough prototype called Typ- 1 to secure more
funds, raising US$30 million for the project over the
next year and a half. The additional capital allowed Mr.
Fambro to expand the project team to approximately
100 people and open a 75,000 square-foot ( 6,968
square-meter) facility in Vista. There, the team kept
tweaking the original prototype.
START YOUR ENGINES
By December 2008, Aptera had completed the
first functioning, production-ready prototype,
which the company says can travel an estimated
100 miles (161 kilometers) on a single, overnight
The quirky, three wheeled Mk-0 that emerged
wasn’t a customer-ready product, but it was
functional and proved that the design principles
RENDERING COURTESY OF AP TERA