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The Almighty Buck Transportation Technology

After 6 Years, Aptera Motors Is No More 173

Posted by timothy
from the market's-a-harsh-mistress dept.
After years of beautiful concept cars, envy-inspiring demos, and missed production targets starting in 2008, high-efficiency car startup Aptera is liquidating its assets. A pointed excerpt from Wired's account: "The truth is, Aptera always faced long odds and has been in trouble for at least two years. The audience for a sperm-shaped, three-wheeled, electric two-seater was never anything but small. It didn’t help that production of the 2e — at one point promised for October 2009 — was continually delayed as Wilbur ordered redesigns to make it more appealing to the mainstream. Aptera had a small window in which to be a first mover in the affordable EV space, and that window closed the moment the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt hit the market. At that point, Aptera teetered on the brink of irrelevance." As a compulsive driver, I had been hoping to one day drive one of these to save gas money.
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After 6 Years, Aptera Motors Is No More

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  • Who? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hipp5 (1635263) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @08:30AM (#38249294)
    Doesn't help that I'd never heard of them.
    • I heard the name a few years ago. I just came here to point out that "an" is only to be used before words starting with a vowel, or at least a vowely sound :p You'd think an editor would have a better grasp of the English language.. :/

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      I had. Despite what the fine article says demand was not a problem. Lots of people wanted these cars. They just couldn't deliver them.
      • Sounds like a scam to me. If you have a product, you deliver it. They didn't have a product, or at least didn't have the product they said they had., They were selling hype.

        • by symbolset (646467) *
          Like most startups they didn't have a product yet - just plans to make one. This is not at all unusual, and not necessarily a scam. A lot of companies come into being with the intent to make something great and then fail to deliver and run out of cash. Some few hit it big and the winnings are fabulous. Them's the breaks.
        • by Rei (128717)

          You need to realize what happened with this company. Since I somehow inexplicably became the go-to gal for leaks, I would recommend what I've already [gas2.org] written [gas2.org] on the subject. The short of it: they *were* about to ship vehicles (I even have the vehicle integration schedule to back it up) when the board of directors forced a new CEO on them, a Detroit guy who ordered a redesign of almost everything in order to make it more mainstream.

          Now that the company is dead, expect all of this and a lot more to start c

    • by blackicye (760472)

      At least they achieved something...blowing through 40 million dollars in 6 years for a vaporware product is pretty impressive.

      • by Shotgun (30919)

        That's nothing. If they had some contacts in a Democratic administration, they could have blown through $500 million.

  • As Usual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mikkeles (698461) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @08:34AM (#38249300)

    'was continually delayed as Wilbur ordered redesigns to make it more appealing to the mainstream.'

    The perfect is the enemy of good enough.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's more than that ....

      Any new car maker is going to have problems because they're trying to compete in an old business with entrenched companies.

      Secondly, most folks don't give a shit about efficiency. Even after the crazy ups and downs of oil prices in the last few years, people are still buying gas guzzling vehicles [cnn.com]. So, any auto company that's going to market their product based upon efficiency will have to wait a long time and have the capital to do it and most importantly, have backers that are willi

      • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:30AM (#38249920)

        High oil prices destroy demand, causes recession and subsequent price collapse of oil.

        Anyone who is going to market a replacement vehicle for oil based ones is going to have to market it to people who cannot afford oil when it's low. i.e. it hast to be cheap. Think TATA motors Nano, but electric and with reasonable range, which is a pricing challenge.

        ~$100 is the new low BTW.

      • by Sporkinum (655143)

        That is pretty true. I gave my old 30 mpg Saturn to my mother in law, and bought a used 20 mpg Cadillac for $6000. Since I saved so much buying used, gas mileage was really not too important. I really enjoy the power and quality of the Caddy and I really would not want to go back to a lesser vehicle.

        I would enjoy having better mileage, but it is not worth the premium in cost.

    • Re:As Usual (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:24AM (#38249550)

      The good enough always wins because "the perfect" is a figment of deranged and twisted egos.
       

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by optimism (2183618)

        So...how shall we explain that the ego-designed iPod, iPhone, and iPad won over the "good enough" alternatives?

        • All of the above were "good enough". Those products are FAR from being the perfect device. For instance: how about FLAC support?
        • by Burning1 (204959)

          If you're arguing that the iPhone is perfect, you've either never used one, or never used anything else.

        • by Shotgun (30919)

          How did that screwy antennae issue work out for you?

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      what they failed while doing that apparently was to do backroom deals of getting short term money in so they could have gotten the government loan. they should have backroomed deals to get money in that would have gone straight out after the loan was in back to the people who gave it. scummy, yes? but that's how they could have gotten it and that's pretty much how it goes with these gov. investment match deals in high risk stuff.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      An electric three-wheeler was never going to appeal to the mainstream, so it was a pointless exercise. If you're going to build electric cars you have to appeal to the rich hippy market.

      • by 0111 1110 (518466)

        Because no one has ever made money by appealing to a niche market. Either you sell to the masses or not at all. Have I got that right? I would have bought one of these if he ever sold any and it wasn't too expensive.

    • Re:As Usual (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sandytaru (1158959) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:15PM (#38250684) Journal
      The thing is, I liked the design the way it was. It was cute. It was the Jetson's car without the flying.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    compare it to say an Aston Martin and it looks more like an student aircraft designers sketchbook drawing than a work of art from a car design pov,
    3 wheels and a plastic body ? there is a reason 3 wheel cars have always failed in the marketplace, they look ridiculous and stability is fundamentally compromised

    try making your concept cars look desirable, not like a handicapped car for able bodied people

    • by Rei (128717)

      Amazing density of false claims.

      Now, I can't call your views on aesthetics "false", mind you, but I can point out that the whole point of Aptera was that a particular persons idea of what a car "should" look like should not dictate what this vehicle looked like. They took vehicle design back to square one: "How can we carry two people and cargo using the absolute minimum of energy without compromising safety?" Everything flowed from that. If the most efficient vehicle shape to achieve that goal was a gia

  • Snow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arthurpaliden (939626) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @08:53AM (#38249392)
    The major problem with these 'concept' cars, not just this one, is that they are only drivable in places that never have winter. Which of course rules out most of the industrialized western world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's wrong. You can drive them everywhere, even in places with winter, as long as there's no snow at the moment.

      • If you don't have snow, you don't have winter. You have extended fall and early spring.

        Living in the Great White North we have some extra seasons:

        Winter is the longest one, starting usually in November and running through to April. Then we have Thaw, when the snow disappears, followed by Mud. Then we get Spring, when things start greening up, followed by Summer and Autumn.

        Sometimes we get Monsoon between Spring and Summer.

        ***

        I looked at the Aptera. I thought it VERY cool. It looked like it was going fa

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:12AM (#38249484) Homepage Journal

    This car is interesting but it was aimed at the wrong consumer. US consumer cannot afford this vehicle, because US consumer is subsidized (especially now with the Government Motors), and all the various loans, that make it too cheap for the US consumer, who can't really afford the new cars buy them with government guaranteed loans.

    The company should have moved the idea to China and started there and aimed at the local Chinese market. I think they were going with a more or less correct idea in terms of the product, but they were not doing it at the right time and definitely not aiming it at the right clients.

  • Who would have thought a company producing this!:
    http://www.popularmechanics.com/cm/popularmechanics/images/ib/aptera-8-doors-up.jpg [popularmechanics.com]
    might go out of business.....

    Y'now, cars are the shape they are for a reason. Or in fact many reasons.

     

    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      If they were actually producing it they might not have gone out of business.

      Also, what's wrong with the shape? Do you hate it just because it doesn't look like other cars? It looks good, like an airplane with no wings.

      • by Colin Smith (2679)

        I don't hate it. it's simply useless to me, and I suspect many millions upon millions of others.
         

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          WHY is it useless to you?

          Isn't getting you to work and back, and maybe the grocery store, enough for most people?

  • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:25AM (#38249556)

    Trikes are registered as motorcycles in the US in the same way as a conventional MC with a side car.

    They aren't serious transportation. They are fun, but don't have the AGILITY of a two-wheeler or the STABILITY of a four-wheeler (wheels under each corner come in handy).

    This isn't a blow against practical EVs, it's just one less toy. Since trikes don't have to meet crash standards, it was an understandable workaround....that's been done before....but makes it a toy.

    • by knarf (34928)

      Who says sidecar bikes 'aren't serious transportation'? I ride my (soviet-era) Ural all year round, through all weather. Roads are often unpaved here, but that does not stop me. The distances can be substantial, but that does not stop me either. Temperature varies from around 20-25ÂC summertime to -25ÂC winter. In winter we often have up to a meter of snow on the ground.

      I live in Sweden. The bike weighs 350 kg unloaded. The Red Army chased the Germans back to Berlin on (the predecessors of) these

      • by couchslug (175151)

        I'm an avid motorcyclist myself, but even a good sidehack isn't much of a hauler. Kudos for being a determined enthusiast!

        "The Red Army chased the Germans back to Berlin on (the predecessors of) these things. Not serious transportation... not for you, maybe."

        The "chasing" was mutual:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMZ-Ural [wikipedia.org]

  • by RandomFactor (22447) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:27AM (#38249570)

    Another one bites the dust...

    Is there anything out there yet that is

      - reasonably inexpensive
      - short-mid range capable (long range not required, i have a regular car if needed)
      - charges on house current (prefer all-electric)
      - reasonably road safe
      - can still keep me reasonably warm in winter (cool in summer a plus, but not as important)
      - has a radio
      -some cargo/passenger room would be nice to have since the grocery stores are only a few miles away
      - Doesn't really need to top 45mph, I'm thinking train commute (back-roads, grocery run, maybe occasional kid pickup from school)

    Appearance is not a major consideration.

    Really what I need seems to be in a sweet spot between CEV and general use passenger car. Is there such a thing out there? Am I missing something? Economics still seem to point to cheap gas vehicles (which is vaguely annoying).

    • Find yourself a cheap econobox gasser and convert it to electric. I have a soft spot for 1st generation Saturns since they're light and reasonably resistant to rust. It's not THAT expensive to do (US$10K in parts plus your labor) since the original car is practically free.

      http://www.phoenixeaa.com/photoalbum/streetevs/suiter1/main.html [phoenixeaa.com]

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Sounds like you want to slightly mod a GEM.

      They're very cheap.
      Adding rigid doors will cost just a bit more.
      Up to 4-seats, plus a small "trunk".
      For heat, one of these [harborfreight.com] might do.
      Street legal on roads up to 35MPH.
      Top-speed of 25MPH is easily fixed. (no longer street-legal)

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:27AM (#38249576) Homepage Journal

    He ousted two of the originals and was a old school car guy, it was no wonder that nothing that had been created before he arrived would ever satisfy him, nor much of any chance innovation was going to stick.

  • Aptera vs Solyndra (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:28AM (#38249582) Homepage Journal

    House Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been holding hearings [politico.com] on the corruption he accuses Obama having when Federal loan guarantees were given to Solyndra, the large solar startup that went out of business this year. Issa has also been busy denying his own work using his own power to try to get the same loan guarantees for Aptera, which is in his own district. Now Aptera has also failed. Will Issa investigate himself for corruption? [factcheck.org]

    • by Karzz1 (306015)
      Ahh.. typical American* politicians; "Hello kettle, this is pot...".

      * I am a US citzen and I vote. Unfortunately in regard to American politics, there is no choice only a lack of options.
    • Were Aptera's investors major donors to Issa's campaign? If not, there is no comparison with the Solyndra case. Additionally, while Aptera may not have been a good choice for a government loan (I do not know, but their going out of business now suggests that maybe so), it was in Issa's district. It is part of his job to assist companies in his district in dealing with the federal government. At no point in any of the letters that are quoted in your link did he do any more than say he was requesting that Apt
      • by laird (2705) <lairdp AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:09AM (#38250186) Journal

        Solyndra's investors weren't particularly Obama donors - the Waltons (i.e. Walmart) were major investors, and they're hardly Obama fans. Keep in mind also that Solyndra was started and was fast-tracked for funding under a DOE program started under Bush, and Obama's [ep[;e actually slowed things down, did more due diligence, and put more protections in place around the loans that ended up saving us money by pulling the plug on the company. Despite Issa's partisan spinning, this isn't something to blame Obama on - any time the government sets up a fund to promote businesses, some of those businesses will succeed and some will fail, and Solyndra failed because China radically dropped the price of solar cells, wiping out Solyndra's market. The real problem isn't that the US government set up a fund to encourage solar development, it's that the US started years later than China, and with a much lower level of investment, so China is beating us. The answer isn't to give up, it's to compete harder.

        • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:31AM (#38250374)
          It was not "fast-tracked" for funding under Bush. The Solyndra loan was put on hold by the Bush Administration (at least partly because they were not going to be able to complete evaluation before the transition and therefore left it for the new Administration to reach a decision). The Obama Administration may have put more "due diligence" in place, but they then made a decision before that "due diligence" was completed. Somebody from the DOE predicted that Solyndra would go bankrupt in September of 2011 before the DOE renegotiated the loan guarantees so that the investors would get paid first, then, what do you know, Solyndra went bankrupt in September 2011. The Administration is trying to claim that the email predicting the bankruptcy was talking about something else, but this is the same Administration that claims upper levels of the Administration were unaware of Project Fast & Furious when they were making speeches touting the program.
  • The problem... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:32AM (#38249596) Homepage

    If your wierd car costs $20K-$40K then I can tell you without a doubt that you will fail instantly.
    Wierd and efficient cars need to target the sub $9000 price point for a econo 2 seater. There are a metric buttload more buyers at that price point than the more likely $40K per car point that it would have ended up at.

    Chevy understood this as well as Nissan. They are producing incredibly few Volts and Leafs because they know there is no market for an economy car at $40K. the economics of the cars do not make any sense to anyone, and the only buyers will be "look at me I'm green! LOOK AT ME!!!!!" people who have a lot of money for a toy. If the chevy volt looked 100% identical to a $15,000 car it would have sold nothing at all because there is no "LOOK AT ME!!1!1!" factor.

    Honda Civic new is $16,000. Chevy Sonic is $15,000 Both get 40mpg. If your car costs MORE than that you are set up for Instant-FAIL. Even if it was to get 60mpg. In reality a new, never heard of company needs to be way,way, under that to get sales because nobody wants to "risk" getting stuck with a poorly built or defective car from a unknown car company.

    • Re:The problem... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jeti (105266) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:01AM (#38249778) Homepage

      If you're new to building cars, you can't go for cheap. You can't compete with mass-produced cars on price and you don't have the capital to set up mass production. If the manual labor required for assembling your car makes it 10k more expensive than a comparable car of a big company, your best hope is to produce cars for a market segment where the uniqueness of your model is worth the additional cost to enough customers.

      That's why most small car companies produce super sports cars. It doesn't matter if they cost 210k instead of 200k. But selling a small car for 25k when the competing product costs 15k just doesn't work. Tesla was smart to start with the Roadster. Now they have the means to go after a bigger market with the Sedan.

      • If the manual labor required for assembling your car makes it 10k more expensive than a comparable car of a big company, your best hope is to produce cars for a market segment where the uniqueness of your model is worth the additional cost to enough customers.

        That's the OP's point - the Aptera is too expensive for the economy segment, and too underperforming/oddly styled for the (more well heeled) 'green fetish/stylish' market. Or, in other words, at it's price point the Aptera is a solution in search of a

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      If the chevy volt looked 100% identical to a $15,000 car it would have sold nothing at all because there is no "LOOK AT ME!!1!1!" factor.

      I don't know, the Volt [thecarconnection.com] and the Civic [readywheels.com] look pretty similar to me.

    • by Rei (128717)

      Really? People don't spend big bucks on unusual, niche cars? What world are you living in? There's a whole industry out there, ranging from the Big Three to little garage shops, that exists specifically to sell low-volume, unusual, high-cost cars to enthusiasts who love them specifically for their differences.

  • Being in business for 6 years, building a working prototype, and getting $40 million in funding is a relative success.

    Great job Aptera, hopefully everyone involved finds new work.

  • by JBMcB (73720) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:16AM (#38249854)

    Building a concept car is relatively easy. Making a limited production run of expensive one-offs is also pretty easy. Mass producing a car affordable for the general market at a profit is *insanely* difficult. Basically, your quality has to be near-perfect, because one recall to fix a defective CV joint or door latch will blow your profit margin out of the water. So will rising commodity prices. So will rising labor prices. So will changing regulations. So will dozens of factors you probably haven't even thought about.

  • Obviously, this is further proof that that electric cars will never work and that all any alternative to burning gasoline for transportation is nothing but a liberal boondoggle and there's no such thing as climate change.

    In the event that we ever run out of fossil fuels, we can just squeeze my cousin Randy. He's the greasiest guy I have ever met. Pores the size of nickels.

  • The right way is to create a single company with multiple brands in which the core is shared. The brands are then owned by fairly wealthy ppl. Once you have the core tech off the ground and brands solid, then split the company along with the IP. Basically, to get car companies off the ground here, the founders need to learn to work together like we used to do, not trying to kill each other.
  • Very disappointed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sandytaru (1158959) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:12PM (#38250648) Journal
    I've been watching them since they first started working on the car. I cheered them on at the EV races two years ago. The Aptera was a great concept car that showed energy efficiency could look really cool in a way that no other EV has quite achieved yet. Even if it had a plain old boring conventional motor, the aerodynamic shape would have given it a good boost in gas mileage, and it just looked stylish. It really is a pity.
  • I live in Carlsbad, CA, where one of their facilities is, I've seen them (or maybe just one) driving down El Camino now and then. Looks like a disembodied small aircraft fuselage. Seems utterly un-crash-worthy. Very pretty, not very practical.

    I remember when (last year) they were turned down for government assistance, because they had three wheels not four; wondered why they didn't just drag a bicycle wheel so they'd qualify.

    Hoping to go by their offices next week and see if there's any evidence of gettin

  • so much hate (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 0111 1110 (518466) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:27PM (#38251278)

    What's with all the hate for the Aptera? Did the owner rape your sister or something? I can't believe so many of you are getting so worked up about hating this guy and his company and his car. I smell some kind of agenda, although I can't imagine what it could possibly be. Maybe you guys work for companies that make those pathetic hybrids that barely get more than 50 mpg? It was a concept car that never made it off the ground. It could have been any small automotive startup. The fact that it was a car that looked like an airplane and got much higher gas mileage than anything else on the road in North America is not why they failed. Even for major manufacturers, most concept cars never see the light of day. I would have bought an Aptera if they could have sold it for less than 30k. It was strikingly beautiful and had an incredibly low coefficient of drag. I think it would have been one of the best cars ever made.

    For now I will continue to salivate over Volkswagen's efforts with the XL1 [dailymail.co.uk]. Although I much prefered the former, more radical, tandem 2 seater L1 [ecogeek.org] A real jetson-mobile.

    • Sperm shaped? WTF? It looks like a small aircraft without the wings -- there was so much hate for something truly different.

      I'm hoping they open source the designs or enough leaks out so somebody can put out a kit car or something. I'd bite.

    • by luther349 (645380)
      agreed. many concepts no matter how good most of the time they relies the car will be to expensive. wile 4 years ago they might have been able to get in the market with a mid cost ev now they have to compete with the the volt that is the same thing. wile it might be only 40 miles on the battery's alone on the volt thats enough for most people for in town driving and if its not use the gas engine/hybred modes. but even the volt cost to much to ever get the gas saving back in extra cost.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      It was a concept car that never made it off the ground. [...] Even for major manufacturers, most concept cars never see the light of day.

      You have no idea what a "concept car" is. Pretty much none of them ever see the light of day (there are a few rare exceptions). They are mostly just expensive PR for car companies, with the occasional practical benefit of having some compelling elements that get put into other (production) vehicles.

      Then again, they had a neat looking prototype with no business model and

  • this sort of thing is why elon musk didnt take shit from the hippies in his company when building tesla motors into a viable business. sometimes you gotta bust some face and get shit done, or your company fucking dies.

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