Published on May 22nd, 2012 | by Breath on the Wind


Aptera Electric Car Company Rises from Its Ashes: A Rescue by the Sleeping Dragon

May 22nd, 2012 by  


The phoenix and a dragon is a common motif on Chinese pottery, often used as wedding gifts. Aptera (a wingless bird) is an electric car company that ceased operations in December after many setbacks, but its ideas and assets have taken flight again, purchased by the Jonway Group, a Chinese company. This might be considered an auspicious omen.

The Car

For those who took notice of EV developments in the last several years, Aptera made a name for itself by promoting the idea of a light vehicle that would nevertheless be crash-worthy due to its internal structure and airbags. Its light weight combined with its extreme aerodynamic shape would mean that it would only need a small engine and would be highly efficient.

The unusual vehicle sported 3 wheels, and, accordingly, would be registered as a motorcycle, but the driver would not need a helmet or a special license. Several configurations were considered, including a conventional engine, a hybrid, and a battery electric vehicle. The innovation received recognition in the last Star Trek movie, where it made a brief appearance appropriately cast as a futuristic vehicle.

The soon-to-be-obsolete Aptera Motors website proclaims: “We have gone to great lengths to find visionaries, innovators and disruptors.” Being surrounded by innovation can make us blind to how others view our work, competition, and a sound business model. We can become so convinced of our divine place in the world that it is hard to get the rose out of the glasses. As Aptera entered the X prize competition that concluded last year, it seemed a forgone conclusion that it should win. But there were other 3-wheeled vehicles that seemed designed just for the competition, including a sport model known at the Alias by Zap motors. The competition was supposed to be promoting fuel-efficient vehicles that were destined for production. The Aptera, from media coverage, seemed close to this goal but did not prevail. A door swinging open during one part of the competition probably did not help. Jim Motavalli, a frequent writer on electric vehicles, feels that the company was just trying to do too much — “…all at once — launch a new car company, employ revolutionary composite materials, build a better battery, introduce a radical body design, and create public awareness.”

It had previously been denied a government loan, primarily on the basis that its product was a 3-wheeled vehicle and not a 4-wheeled vehicle. When a lobbying effort changed the wording on the loan program, the company reapplied, but was not able to secure the requested loan amounts or sufficient funding to accept the loan. Aptera sounded like another Tesla, only waiting for production to begin to fill its waiting list of anticipating customers, but Tesla has paid great attention to its business model. Without alternative financing, Aptera decided to cease operations.

The Company

Now the innovation that was Aptera has been purchased by the Chinese in the form of the Jonway group.

This is the same company which is a major investor in Zap, which at almost 20 years old is, by today’s standards, an “old” electric car company. It primarily manufactured 3-wheeled vehicles used commercially and in industry around the world, but with the aid of the Jonway group expanded its offing. Presently, Zap vehicles are manufactured in China and assembled in Santa Rosa, California. There is a plan to do the same with the new Aptera vehicles scheduled to be available for purchase in early 2013. A new website for Aptera USA is reportedly being prepared and pre-ordering should be available by the end of June, but as of this writing, there seems to be no new live website. The now close connection between Zap and Aptera is further suggested in the proposed original name change to “Zaptera, USA,” according to the North Bay business Journal.

This story is almost a repeat of what happened to an innovative electric motorcycle called the Vectrix, which also closed its doors to be later purchased by a Chinese company, Gold Peak Industries. We can wish these Chinese companies well and be grateful that the American innovations will not disappear from the world. At the same time, we might wonder if we can still call it simply a lack of leadership where Congress fails to promote alternatives to oil and watches year after year as we become increasingly indebted to China because of foreign payments for oil. What is China doing with its growing prosperity? Congress continues to watch as American companies like Solyndra fail due to Chinese imports (and then spend more taxpayer money trying to cast blame elsewhere) and it watches again as the innovations that could help relieve our debt, from companies like Aptera and Vectrix, are purchased with oil dollars. Perhaps we should ignore the brief spot where the Aptera appears in Star Trek and instead take a lesson from the now canceled show Firefly, which follows a future rag-tag spaceship crew that can’t afford much but in which everyone speaks Chinese. At what point is it more than a lack of leadership?

Images: Phoenix and DragonAptera via wikicommons

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About the Author

We share this World; its past, present resources and our combined future. With every aspiration, the very molecules we use for life are passed to others through time and space so that each of us may be considered a Breath on the Wind. This part of the world's consciousness lives in NYC; has worked in law, research, construction, engineering; has traveled, often drawn to Asia; writes on Energy and Electric Vehicle issues and looks forward to all your comments.   "If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect." -- Benjamin Franklin

  • New Pearce

    Americans have no vision. Our government is out of control with wars and defense spending. Middle class is no more and on it’s way to extinction. Get of the grid, grow your own.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Getting off the grid means higher electricity prices.

  • Mark edward marchiafava

    As a lifelong motorcyclist, I’d love to see someone take the Aptera and install a motorcycle engine which would drive the rear wheel. At 60, I’m looking for something to carry me into my later years. This would be so much better than a triked-out conventional motorcycle.

  • Richard Paige

    In the USA we make money by moving money around. Making money any other way is too much work. It is too bad that only a tiny fraction of the population benefits. Everybody is expected to bail out the super rich when they go bust. When they win, we lose. When they lose, we lose more. And we subsidize their taxes. They soak up so many resources. The last thing they are going to do is invest in American manufacturing. They are not patriotic.
    In the last presidential election we saw this play out. The uber rich talk a carefully crafted script about being job creators. What they actually do is destroy American companies and jobs so that they can play games moving money around.
    The best USA innovation and technology in energy and transportation is bought by foreign interests. A123 is no longer American, except for the portion that is defense related.

    Big Oil interests have a strangle hold on Congress. We pay corporate welfare to them. All of the technology we need for energy independence has already been created here in the US. The ventures that create it can seldom survive, because they do not have the huge advantage that Big Oil has in the marketplace. We do not need Big Oil. They are a huge burdon. Every time another innovator like Aptera, A123 etc go to China, Big Oil laughs its ass off. They win, we lose.
    If you want to watch them lose control of their bowels, start talking about all of the practical ways we can move our bodies around at over 100 mpg. My electric bike can move my full grown American body 1 mile down the road on about 50 watts of power. Where i live it is all hydro and wind generated electricity.
    5 miles for one penny. Of course I have to import the parts from China to build the bike.
    When A123 was in business, they would not sell their state of the art batteries directly to regular citizens, even though the citizens were subsidizing them. The Chinese will sell you whatever they have in stock. Cash and carry, no questions asked.
    The way we do business here is messed up. Backwards. Very few of us even realize what we are losing when the great American innovations get crated up and sent to China. The Chinese way of doing business is working and ours in failing.

    • Extremely, tremendously well summarized points. Thanks.

  • Jerry

    Solyndra did not fail because of lack of government support or because of Chines imports, it failed because better technology came along which is simply the way business works. Don’t feed at the Fox news trough and you will make fools of yourselves!

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