Futuristic Carmaker Aptera Disputes Internal Rift, Acknowledges Cutbacks

Aptera, the sleek carmaker backed by Google and Idealabs, didn’t respond to my inquiry earlier this week about reports of an internal split in which founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony had left the company. But in an online report published today by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Aptera officials rejected accounts that Fambro and Anthony were ousted in a boardroom showdown.

The company’s status is a keen issue to some 4,000 people, including celebrities Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, and Shaquille O’Neal, who have put down $500 deposits to be the first to buy one of the three-wheel, two-seater vehicles. The Aptera 2e, the company’s first production vehicle, resembles a wingless plane and is expected to cost between $25,000 and $40,000. Aptera is based in Vista, CA, about 30 miles north of San Diego.

Citing a statement issued by Aptera CEO Paul Wilbur, the Union-Tribune says the carmaker had to adjust its production schedule “to align with financing realities.” Instead of producing its first fuel-efficient model in the fall of 2009, as Aptera announced at the beginning of this year, Wilbur says the company will complete its first vehicles in 2010. About 10 of Aptera’s 40 employees have been laid off.

The company, which has raised at least $27.5 million from Google, Idealabs, and other venture investors, is seeking additional funding, according to Popular Mechanics. Aptera says it also intends to resubmit its application for a $75 million loan from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentives Program.

Aptera says co-founders Fambro and Anthony were not asked to leave. Fambro remains on the board, but has taken a leave of absence from the company until next year. Anthony is now the CEO of Flux Power, a startup in the San Diego area that is developing battery-management systems. In another online account published by Popular Mechanics magazine, Fambro also voiced his continuing support for CEO Wilbur.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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3 responses to “Futuristic Carmaker Aptera Disputes Internal Rift, Acknowledges Cutbacks”

  1. Porter Reed says:

    Aptera was screwed by Lachlan Seward, the former Chrysler exec who gives out the money at the DOE. He gave all of the money to his buddies in Detroit without any review and made Aptera write a book of review data which was never even read. His people promised the money ages ago and then not only delayed it intentionally but then refused it alltogether so that Congress and the White House had to sign a bill ordering DOE to fund them. The DOE funding for cars was the most screwed, insider, compromised, crony-laden thing in recent history.

  2. Porter,

    Keep in mind that until very recently (a week ago?) the DOE funds were specifically not available for the development of 2 and 3 wheeled vehicles. So there was no way that Aptera could have even applied for one of those grants.

    Since the passage of the congressional amendment, they have applied for a grant, but it may come too late.

  3. Cindy Rom says:

    (Please re-post this as a community service)
    Less than 20 car companies (The ATVM people say there were tons of applications but only a handful were car companies) applied for $25 BILLION DOLLARS in taxpayer money managed by a certain smug group of people at DOE in order to get loans to make green cars for Americans. This was not all of DOE that did bad things, just a private cadre of men led by Lachland Seward and Matt Rogers and his McKinsey “Partner” who flew back and forth to their homes in Silicon Valley every weekend on the taxpayer dime.

    There was enough money to help every single one of the car companies that applied. The administrators applied their interpretations of the law in order to benefit the large lobby group-related firms and avoided every one of the “politically unconnected “independent American companies. The companies staff that felt that Matt Rogers, Lachland Seward and the ATVM people lied to them include: Aptera Motors, Bannon, BioTrike, Brammo, Bright Auto, VVC, Eco Motors, Electric Motors, ElectroRides, Electrovaya, ETS, EV Innovations, Futuris, Limnia, Magna, Pheonix, Revolution, Smart Earth, Vextrix, Wrightspeed, XP, Zap and a group of others currently seeking a class action law firm.

    The amount of lobby and influence money spent by each awardee is in direct ratio to the amount of money awarded. Pay-to-play was the process.

    The smaller companies, due to lower overhead, could have dramatically more productive results with the money than the large burdened companies yet the money was given out based on political career advantages for the administrators rather than the technology advantages for Americans.

    The way the ATVM people set it up (Google “Siry says stifles innovation” for more), the smaller applicants were prevented from getting outside investor funding.

    All of the people that reviewed the applications had political and financial connections to GM, Ford, Chrysler and the large Detroit recipients.

    Each of those smaller American companies had technology and resources that presented a powerful economic threat, if they got the loans, to the large politically connected companies that did receive funds. The big car companies wanted the small companies cut-out at all costs.

    The Section 136 law was written to provide first-come-first serve funding but when the small companies got their applications in first, while the big ones arrogantly felt that they did not even need to apply because it was already pre-staged for them, the ATVM officials changed the rules in order to remove the first-come-first-serve standard of the law in order to cut out the smaller independents.

    Some of the companies that have gotten money have backed out of making the electric cars they said they would make. But they still get to keep the money.

    The Section 136 Law was created by the lobbyists for GM, Ford & Chrysler when they saw that they were about to go bankrupt and wanted to tap into additional taxpayer dollars by claiming the money was going to be used for electric cars in order to win rapid support for Section 136 by tugging at heartstrings. In retrospect, the money mostly went to gasoline car projects. Multiple public hearings have already shown the sister loan guarantee program to have been a failed program via intentional delays, the head was fired and replaced & massive complaints have been filed by many.

    Some of the companies that got the money have already wasted more money than other companies applied for as their total request.

    Some of the companies that got taxpayer loan money are not even American companies and/or are doing their manufacturing offshore with non-American employees. Thus, the ATVM process has cost American’s jobs.

    Those who got the money had to fill out little, or no, paperwork, went through little, or no, review and were connected to the DOE people who gave them the money and shepherded them through the process. Those who they wanted to keep out were forced to jump through more hoops, were slow-tracked in review and had made no political deals via hired law and lobby firms that the big companies has used to conduit “influence”.

    The decision about who would get money was made in 2008 by a private group who then pretended there was a lengthy review throughout 2009 but in fact, the money was pre-wired for a select few. The ATVM group lied to the other applicants about their application station when Lachlan Seward had already personally decided, without review, that his connections would get the money and ordered his staff to tell the applicants, for over a year, that they were all on the way to funding. This caused those applicants to expend money and brand reputation which they lost because of Sewards lies.

    All of the things that the rejected small companies (who did not pay lobby fees) were rejected for, were the same things that the insider big companies were doing. In at least two cases, big companies who were in violation of Section 136 rules were guided by reviewer-insiders to change their whole business structure in order to become suddenly “compliant “with section 136 while smaller companies received no such “help”.

    How does this affect you? It cost you and your friends jobs, it delayed American innovation, it made your family have to breath toxic petroleum fumes for another decade, it furthered a corrupt practice and it hurt domestic small business. This was all about money. Controlling who got to make money off of the technology and who got to delay electric cars so the old oil and steel guys could still make money off of their old assets.