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107 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Already on sale. Wanted to highlight the safety section since this thing looks like a kit car.

I'm accelerating and cornering — hard — on three wheels, little wisps of tire smoke curling out of the slender front wheel pants as steering is cranked in and "throttle" applied. And no, I'm not in an early Volkswagen GTI that hikes up its inside rear tire. Rather, I've been given a drive in the Aptera 2e, a soon-to-be-produced electric vehicle whose shape is slipperier than a Teflon-coated salmon on glare ice, and whose composite construction offers both light weight and impressive structural integrity. Better yet, the 2e is scheduled to begin rolling off the Vista, California, assembly line this October for an as-yet-to-be-determined price between $25,000 and $40,000. Charge it overnight from your 110-volt home outlet, and it's claimed to have a range of 100 miles...in the carpool lane, if you wish.

Pie in the sky? Nope. The business model looks sound; nearly 4000 deposits have been placed (Robin Williams among the clientele), enthusiastic investors are locked in, and co-founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony have assembled a team that balances Detroit low-volume niche-production experience with California "anything is possible" attitude. Chief engineer Tom Reichenbach was formerly vehicle engineering manager for both Ford GT and Shelby GT500 programs; and CEO Paul Wilbur has a storied history at Ford, Chrysler and ASC. And Fambro, a biotech engineer and private pilot intrigued by his aircraft's composite construction, and Anthony, a composites specialist with a background in boat design and fluid dynamics, seemed predestined for this partnership.

But back to the Aptera itself. I'm in the pre-production prototype called Punch, so named for upholstery whose color matches that oft-spiked party drink. But the fabric's long gone, as Punch gets lots of track-testing duty and is tuned now with suspension settings and an a/c motor/controller that are nearing final production specs. With the rotary "shifter" clicked to D3, the most aggressive setting, it's responsive, easily modulated and reasonably quick: Reichenbach says 0–60 mph in under 10 seconds with a 90-mph top speed with its pack of lithium-phosphate-ion-"pixie dust" cells — that last part suggesting that their exact composition is a secret.

But flinging it around the streets near Aptera's headquarters, it seems quicker still, partly due to a go-kart-like agility that's carried off with a surprisingly civil ride. Adding to the feel is a view of the road rushing up at you (the base of the aircraft-evocative windshield plunges toward the pavement) and those wheel pants articulating with the inboard rocker-type front suspension, visible out of the dramatically forward-raked side windows. Steering and brakes are unassisted, but efforts are reasonable as the curb weight is only 1700 lb., about half the weight of a base Honda Accord.

Aptera 2eEarlier, I rode with Reichenbach in another near-production prototype whose interior and exterior detailing is nearing final spec. Entering gracefully through the quasi-gullwing doors takes a few tries, but the door openings are large and once seated, the cabin width seems to split the difference between a Lotus Elise and a Toyota Corolla. There's a large hooded digital speedometer and bar-graph battery state-of-charge indicator, along with a central infotainment screen that offers mind- boggling possibilities. Leg- and head room were surprisingly generous for even my 6- foot-3 frame. And safety is preeminent in the Aptera's design — the final version will have both frontal and side airbags. And if there was any doubt about the strength of the composite construction, it was quelled as eight Aptera employees stood on the roof of a development shell. And that was after the shell had gone through government roof -crush testing!

It seems as if the future is here today...or at least come this October

I'd rock it. But I don't see how a 3 wheeler can be a sports car and an economy car unless it had a massive rear tire which would be horrible for fuel economy.

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25 Posts
Don't they use carbon fiber in that? How can they keep the price down at "$25,000 and $40,000"?

And isn't aerodynamics only a major penalty at highway speeds? For city driving how much are they saving? You're not taking a road trip with a claimed range of 100 miles. Real world driving styles plus AC and add the average American's passenger "weight correction" and you've got 75 miles max.

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2nd the capacitor. Li-ion batteries are an intermediary solution to electric cars. I'd rather have a hybrid than that thing. 1700 lbs and only 100 miles range?
The major problem with capacitors is cost and getting coltan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coltan A lot of it comes from warring states. Every resource has a cost. Conservation has no alternative solution that lets you have everything

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64 Posts
This topic just came up in this weeks Newsweek article:

Discussions of cutting-edge energy always come down to a technology that's more than 200 years old: the battery. Modern versions are much more powerful than Alessandro Volta's pile of copper and zinc discs and brine-soaked cardboard. But they're still not up to 21st-century tasks like powering the autos of 2020 or storing solar power for use at night. NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria spoke with Alex Molinaroli, the president of power solutions at Johnson Controls, which will supply the battery for Ford's first plug-in electric vehicle. Excerpts:

Zakaria: Am I right that batteries are the key to our energy future?
Molinaroli: Absolutely. Energy storage is going to be vitally important. You have to match the production with the demand. That's easy to do when you have oil in the ground or coal that you can pile up, but you can't do that with electricity. You have to be able to store it somehow.

So in the future we're talking about not just batteries in cars, but batteries in power plants or on wind farms?
You have to be able to have different types of energy storage. You have to be able to store at the site, and you have to be able to store in a distributed way. And then when you talk about vehicles, you have to be able to store in a more compact and efficient way. So there'll be all types of different battery systems that are required.

Are the batteries in our future going to be up to this challenge?
I have no doubt about it. Over the last couple of years there's been a lot of talk about how the battery is not ready for this. That's a fact: batteries and battery systems aren't ready for this. But that's because they haven't been required—there hasn't been a market. What you're seeing now is people moving beyond demonstration projects to commercialization ... That's how this whole thing is going to move much more exponentially.

So what changed? Was it $140-a-barrel oil?
I honestly don't know if oil at $140 actually was the change. The automotive companies' being in a crisis [means] now's the time for a disruptive technology. Before, I don't think they could afford to retool, and they weren't motivated to retool. The automotive industry has now moved beyond trying to protect the old technology, to a place where they want to be a part of the solution. Now it's a race.

So if it's a race among private-sector enterprises, why do you need subsidies? The stimulus bill that just passed has loan guarantees and tax credits for battery makers.
Does the United States want to have the same kind of leadership position it's had in other emerging technologies? When the dotcom era came, our technology position made us competitive. Do United States citizens want to open up the hood of these vehicles and instead of seeing Middle East oil, do we want to see Asian battery suppliers? The United States is not coming from a position of strength. The consumer battery industry moved offshore 15, 20 years ago.

So where is it now?
Today it's in Korea. It's in Japan. And there's an awful lot of development in China. That's where the critical mass is. A partnership with the U.S. government to put manufacturing here and research and development in the U.S.—I think that's the proper thing. The payback on that is something that we're not going to see over the next few years exclusively; I think we'll see that for a long, long time. Today we have a plant in France because that's where our first customers were—in Europe. But we really want to put manufacturing here in the United States, and [government support] gives us that opportunity.

Batteries are improving at the rate of roughly 8 percent a year. That doesn't seem like the kind of disruptive technological advance we need.
I think that's because we haven't really pushed the technology.

Do you think we'll see a step-function change—a truly breakthrough advance?
This whole field has been underfunded and underfocused. But this is not in the back rooms anymore. I'm absolutely sure that if you start driving toward a purpose of putting vehicles on the road with real volume commitments, you're going to see a step change.

The current hybrid has both a gas engine and a battery-powered one. Wouldn't it make sense to have an all-electric vehicle?
Absolutely. It'll get there. The hybridization of the fleet is moving very quickly in Europe, and you're going to see it in the United States very, very, quickly. Then the plug-ins will come. You'll see the combustion engine get smaller, and then as you get confidence in the technology, and as the battery becomes more capable, you'll see the combustion engine go away, particularly for urban environments ... I think that you're going to see people who have vehicles that they commute to work in, or that they use in their urban environments. And you're going to have other vehicles for other purposes. We're going to see a transformation that is unlike anything you've seen in the automotive industry for 50 years.

Your advanced batteries are made with lithium. Most of the world's lithium reserves are found in Bolivia. Are we transferring our dependence from unpredictable Middle Eastern oil to unpredictable Bolivian lithium?
It's not something I see as a problem. Ninety-seven percent of the batteries that are purchased today, lead-acid batteries, are recycled. So the lead that you get in your battery, you're just borrowing it for a little while. It's a highly recycled product. You're going to see the same kind of recycling in this industry.

Does the U.S. still have the potential to become a world leader in battery technology, or is that position now too far away?
Ford didn't pick us because we're from the United States. We were picked based on our technical capabilities, based on our energy density, based on our cell capability, our system capability. Daimler's first vehicle lithium battery will be ours; BMW's first lithium battery will be ours. We're behind from the standpoint of mass production of cells, and if we don't make this a priority, we could lose this race. But we are not as far behind as some of the rhetoric suggests. This is something that could be done.
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