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The Promising Rebirth of Aptera Motors: Solar EV Pioneer Targets 2023 Production Launch

In the rapidly evolving world of electric vehicles, some companies aim not just to compete, but to redefine the boundaries of what an EV can be. Among the most ambitious is Aptera Motors – the Southern California startup on a mission to build the world‘s most efficient solar electric vehicles.

Aptera‘s story is one of innovation, setbacks, rebirth and renewed promise. Founded in 2005 by Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, Aptera set out to create a radically different type of passenger vehicle. Fambro, an electrical engineer, dreamed up the idea for a hyper-aerodynamic, lightweight electric three-wheeler while stuck in traffic during his daily commute.

Aptera‘s Origins: Dreaming Big in a California Garage

Aptera's founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony
Aptera co-founders Steve Fambro (left) and Chris Anthony. Image credit: Aptera Motors

Like many tech success stories, Aptera had humble beginnings in a garage. Using his life savings, Fambro built an initial diesel-electric hybrid prototype, before shifting gears to an all-electric drivetrain. In those early days, he brought on Anthony as a co-founder and COO. The pair secured $2 million in venture capital to continue development.

By 2007, Aptera had settled on its core concept: an ultra-streamlined two-seat, three-wheeled EV with an aircraft-inspired composite body. The unique design boasted a drag coefficient of just 0.13 (compared to 0.24-0.30 for most cars). It was a vehicle straight out of science fiction, promising a 120+ mile range that outclassed other EVs of the time.

Some key stats on the original Aptera 2e concept:

Specification Aptera 2e (2009)
Drag coefficient 0.13
Battery capacity 10-20 kWh
Electric range 120 miles
Seats 2
0-60 mph time Under 10 sec
Top speed 90 mph

Troubles Mount: Bankruptcy and Liquidation

Despite the initial excitement around Aptera‘s concepts, the company soon hit major roadblocks. From 2008-2011, under the leadership of CEO Paul Wilbur, Aptera struggled to raise additional funds and qualify for Department of Energy loans earmarked for green vehicle projects.

At the time, the EV market was still nascent. The Tesla Roadster, one of the first highway-capable EVs, had just launched in 2008. Global EV sales totaled less than 10,000 units annually. Lacking economies of scale and an established supply chain, costs were sky high. Aptera aimed to sell its vehicle for around $30,000, but battery prices alone were $1,000/kWh.

As financial woes mounted, Fambro and Anthony were forced out in 2009. Wilbur forged ahead with a redesign of the flagship vehicle, burning through much of Aptera‘s remaining cash. But with the EV market still in its infancy and crucial government funding never materializing, the company ran out of runway.

In December 2011, Aptera shut its doors, laid off its staff, and liquidated its assets. It was an ignoble end for the EV dreamer – its intellectual property sold off to a Chinese firm that would never put it to use. Many assumed the Aptera story had reached its conclusion.

A Phoenix Rises: The 2019 Aptera Relaunch

As it turns out, Aptera‘s original vision was simply ahead of its time. With the EV market gaining serious momentum in the late 2010s, Fambro and Anthony saw an opportunity to revive their passion project. Securing the rights to Aptera‘s IP, they relaunched the company in 2019 with a $2.8M WeFunder crowdfunding campaign.

Key to Aptera 2.0 is an improved design that leverages advances in EV batteries, motors, composites, and solar cells. The new Aptera vehicle promises:

  • A 1000 mile max range (various range/price configurations from 250 to 1000 miles)
  • Full solar panel integration to enable 40 miles of "free" daily charging
  • 0-60 mph acceleration of 3.5 seconds
  • A curb weight of just 1,800 pounds – one third the heft of a typical EV
  • 100 cubic feet of cargo space
  • Autonomous driver assist capabilities
  • Prices starting at just $25,900

Compare the new Aptera‘s specs to leading EVs on the market today:

Specification Aptera (2023) Tesla Model 3 Chevy Bolt
Battery capacity 25-100 kWh 50-82 kWh 65 kWh
Electric range 250-1000 mi 263-353 mi 259 mi
Solar charging 40 mi/day N/A N/A
Curb weight 1,800 lbs 3,500+ lbs 3,589 lbs
Cargo capacity 100 cu ft 15 cu ft 17 cu ft
Autonomous driving Level 2+ Level 2-5 Level 2
Base price $25,900 $41,190 $31,000

The specs are impressive on paper. Aptera is targeting ranges 3-5X that of comparable EVs at a significantly lower price point. Unique design choices like the three-wheel format, ultra lightweight construction (<1,000 pounds of composites and resins) and highly efficient hub motors make this possible.

But the real game changer is Aptera‘s solar integration. Thanks to a 3 square meter photovoltaic array built into the vehicle‘s roof and body panels, the Aptera can recover meaningful range just from sitting in the sun. In a sunny locale, the cells can generate 700 watts, enough for 40 miles per day or 11,000+ miles per year. No other production EV offers this capability.

Gaining Momentum: 22,000+ Reservations and Key Supplier Deals

As Aptera‘s relaunch gained steam, so did consumer interest. As of May 2022, the company has logged over 22,000 reservations at $100 a piece. If all those translate to actual sales, it would represent $800M in revenue on the books before Aptera has built a single production vehicle.

To put that in perspective, it took Tesla nearly 3 years to reach 22,000 reservations for the Model 3 after its March 2016 unveiling. Granted, a $100 Aptera reservation is a far cry from the $1,000 Model 3 pre-orders. But the figure demonstrates robust initial demand for a transformational solar EV.

To execute on its vision, Aptera is lining up top tier suppliers. The company inked a deal with China‘s EVE Energy in June 2022 to source lightweight cylindrical lithium-ion batteries. Another agreement with Slovenia‘s Elaphe will provide in-hub electric motors. By relying on proven, scalable designs from global suppliers, Aptera can focus its efforts on integration, software and aerodynamic optimization.

The Road Ahead: Targeting 2023 Production

Aptera solar electric vehicle rendering
Rendering of the upcoming Aptera solar electric three-wheeler. Image credit: Aptera Motors

After revealing an updated design in early 2020, Aptera is moving rapidly toward real-world assembly. Co-CEO Chris Anthony has stated that a gamma prototype is in development, with the first finalized "delta" vehicles targeted to roll off the line in 2023.

Aptera‘s leadership has set an ambitious goal to produce 10,000 vehicles by the end of next year. To get there, the company is leasing a 77,000 square foot factory in the San Diego suburbs to serve as its initial assembly hub. Longer-term plans call for a series of regional "micro-factories" located close to major markets.

For customers, Aptera plans to begin converting its 22,000 reservations to actual sales contracts in the coming months, using a $100 deposit to reserve a place in line. The company will offer preconfigured options packages to streamline production and delivery:

Package Est. range Battery Drive Solar Price
Paradigm 400 mi 40 kWh FWD Yes $29,800
Paradigm+ 600 mi 60 kWh AWD Yes $44,900
Momentum 250 mi 25 kWh FWD No $25,900
Momentum+ 400 mi 40 kWh FWD No $29,800

While Aptera hasn‘t disclosed its exact timeline, all signs point to the first customer vehicles hitting the road in the first half of 2023. It will be a major test for the reborn startup, which must now execute at scale after years of dreaming big.

An Audacious Vision for the Future of Transport

Looking beyond its flagship three-wheeler, Aptera envisions an entire product ecosystem leveraging its core solar EV technologies. Future plans call for six-passenger cars, two-seat commuter vehicles, and even solar-powered commercial trucks up to 18 wheelers.

While much work remains to scale up to volume manufacturing, Aptera believes its radical rethinking of EV design offers a transformational approach to efficiency and sustainability. With a less-is-more engineering ethos, Aptera vehicles target a 10X reduction in energy usage per mile compared to today‘s EVs and 100X compared to gas vehicles.

As Co-CEO Steve Fambro explains, "Our goal is to provide a mainstream path to make electric vehicles there for everyone. By keeping our vehicle prices affordable and leveraging solar power, we can make EVs both highly efficient and accessible."

Only time will tell if Aptera‘s second act can live up to the lofty expectations placed upon it. But for fans of innovation in clean transportation, the company‘s return to the EV race is a welcome development. And if Aptera can hit its marks over the coming year, getting its first solar-powered dreamers on the road, it just might spark a new era in how we all get around.