Aptera Rolls Out Newest Model, Says It’s On the Road to Financial Stability

After lying low for much of the past year, startup automaker Aptera Motors of Vista, CA, said it has secured at least $10 million in VC funding and unveiled the latest version of its three-wheel vehicle—powered entirely by a battery from A123 Systems of Watertown, MA.

At a media briefing staged yesterday in the hangar of a private jet aircraft company, Aptera officials unveiled what they described as a “fully engineered” Aptera 2e, an all-electric, two-passenger car capable of using the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of gas to drive more than 200 miles. Immediately after the event, Aptera shipped the vehicle off to Detroit, where it has qualified to compete this summer against 37 other cars in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. The multi-stage competition is offering a $10 million purse ($5 million in two categories) for production-ready, clean, affordable, and fast automobiles that can travel the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.

“We want to show it to you here today before it goes off to Michigan for the competition,” Aptera CEO Paul Wilbur told the crowd, which included journalists, TV camera crews, and representatives from 23 companies that are supplying key components to Aptera.

Tom Reichenbach, Aptera’s chief engineer, said the aerodynamically sleek car revealed at yesterday’s briefing was “built with components that we intend to go to production with,” and nearly “90 percent of the material cost of the 2e will be sourced from U.S.-based suppliers.”

Aptera 2e and Tom Reichenbach

Aptera 2e and Tom Reichenbach

Aptera screened about 20 prospective batteries before selecting a 20 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion “nano phosphate” battery developed by A123 Systems, Reichenbach said. Weight became a crucial factor in engineering the car, and Reichenbach said the battery package accounts for just 476 pounds—or less than a fourth of the car’s overall weight of 1,800 pounds. He also said, “Through clever packaging, their energy density was better than anything else we could find.”

The company cited key contributions by numerous other suppliers, including BorgWarner of Dearborn, MI, which is supplying the single ratio transaxle transmission, and Remy International of Anderson, IN, which is providing the electric motor. Aptera officials estimate production will create 10,000 indirect jobs among component suppliers, auto dealers, and others.

Aptera interior“The engineering that you have to go through to get a good EV [electric vehicle] is exactly the same as any other vehicle,” said Reichenbach, who joined Aptera after 26 years with the Ford Motor Co., where he developed electronic systems for Ford Racing and the first fuel injection system on a Champ Car. “It’s just that the components and placement of components is important because of the weight, so it has to be convenient and pragmatic to be able to have aerodynamic efficiency and light weight,” Reichenbach said. “The battery packs are the heaviest component on an EV.”

A major reason for the car’s relatively light weight is the body, which is made of composite material by Energetx Composites of Holland, MI. Reichenbach says the car’s sleek, bird-like design also emphasizes aerodynamic efficiency. For the geeks in the audience, Reichenbach says the Aptera 2e has a drag coefficient equal to 0.15.

As for the company’s low profile over the past year, Wilbur said Aptera avoided publicity amid swirling rumors about various troubles, including media reports in November about drastic cutbacks and the departure of founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony. The CEO said he made a strategic decision to lie low until Aptera had both a “solid plan” for funding the company and a “fully engineered, design-intent” vehicle ready for production.

Wilbur conceded that Aptera’s fund-raising efforts hit a wall last year, and he described 2009 as “the worst year in 35 years for startup fundraising,” with most VC firms shunning new deals as they sought to preserve funding for their existing portfolio companies.

Nevertheless, Wilbur said Aptera recently secured about $10 million in funding from NRG Energy of Princeton, NJ, which he characterized as the first part of a round that remains open, although he did not say how much the company ultimately intends to raise. Wilbur says Aptera also is awaiting a determination on its application for a five-year, $184 million loan from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program.

With the first part of venture funding secured, Wilbur said Aptera plans to move by the end of this year into a new 200,000 square-foot assembly facility in Oceanside, CA, about 38 miles north of San Diego, where the company anticipates hiring 500 employees. If additional venture funding can be secured as expected, Wilbur says it will take about 11 months for the company to begin “full-blown production.”

Aptera 2e rear view

Aptera 2e rear view

The Aptera CEO also said the company eventually plans to add a second, larger manufacturing plant outside California that would employ another 2,000 workers. That plant would likely be located east of the Mississippi River, Aptera spokesman Marques McCammon told reporters.

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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