If you’re a big follower of EV news (and not just Tesla), you’ve probably heard of Aptera at some point. Instead of taking a traditional sedan or SUV design and electrifying it, the company aims to go all in on efficiency. By making the vehicle small, light, and with extremely good aerodynamics, it has real potential to do more with less than anybody.
Aptera was big news almost a decade ago, but failed to make it to production. Now, it’s back and has bigger plans than ever. Not only does the company plan on building the original vehicle, but it’s also aiming for 1,000 miles of range on a charge. On top of that, Aptera is hoping to add enough solar power to cover the daily driving needs of most American drivers without plugging the car in at all.
While this green recipe is sure to excite hypermilers, the environmentally conscious, and penny pinchers, there’s a side of this I’ve yet to see anyone considering: the performance potential.
For raw acceleration, like racing the 1/4 mile or getting low 0-60 times, aerodynamics isn’t a big part of the equation, but quick acceleration is only one small part of the performance car world. If you look for people focusing on top speeds instead of acceleration, you find some very different looking cars.
For example, there are the salt flat racers, with the most famous place for this being the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The fastest cars, including those setting land speed records, look more like bullets or aircraft than most cars — not unlike the Aptera. The faster you go, the more important a sleek, slippery car body becomes.
Let’s Look At Some Numbers
Aptera says its design will achieve about 10 miles per kWh of battery used. Compared to a Nissan LEAF, this is 2-4 times more range with the same battery. Compared to many other EVs, it’s even more amazing.
With this efficiency in normal driving, Aptera achieves some pretty impressive charging speeds, in miles per hour. Using just vehicle solar cells (that’s not much energy), the company predicts getting an average of 29 miles per day of charging, with as much as 44 miles/day in the best environments in the Southwest. If that’s not fast enough, the car can get as much as 13 miles per hour from any old 110v outlet (most cars get 2-5 miles per hour).
Not fast enough for you? Let’s look at theoretical speeds possible from Level 2 and Level 3 charging. Aptera has yet to comment on whether it will install rapid charging, but it seems unlikely that it won’t.
If you were to hook this hypothetical Aptera car up to a 6.6 kW J1772 charging station, it’s likely going to get about 75 miles per hour of charging, based on my experience with various EVs. Theoretically, 10 miles/kWh with 6.6 kWh of electricity (from charging one hour) is about 66, but that all depends on how efficiently you operate the vehicle. Either way, at level 2, charging is about as fast as freeway driving depletes it. That would be quite a feat by itself.
If the Aptera were capable of charging as fast as a Tesla Model 3 (in terms of electricity), the numbers start to look like something you’d need the fastest jet aircraft or possibly a spacecraft to keep up with. At Tesla’s best stations, the car can suck in electrons at 250 kW, or around 1,000 miles per hour. If the Aptera can go 4x longer on a charge as the company claims, its charging speed would be 4,000 miles per hour.
(250 kWh * 10 miles/kWh = 2500 miles per hour is the math on that, and it’s still pretty impressive)
Now, let’s go with the fastest currently available public charging: 350 kW. At this rate, the car could theoretically pull in 350 kW if it were to charge for an hour (the battery is probably only going to be 100 kWh, but we’re only doing the math here). If it gets 10 miles/kWh, that translates to charging at 3,500 miles per hour. Theoretically.
Actual Vehicle Speed
Now that we’ve worked through the math of charging speeds, let’s get to the exciting part: setting speed records.
Let’s first assume we take this hypothetical Aptera with a 100 kWh battery and 350 kW fast charging and drive it across the country, from New York to Los Angeles. Assuming we stick to the speed limits (because I would never advocate doing anything illegal), this trip could be done in around 45 hours. I know this because I used A Better Route Planner and told it that the Porsche Taycan gets 10 miles/kWh at 65 MPH.
With such an efficient vehicle, one could beat the current standing EV Cannonball record (that we know of) by hours, and do it driving the speed limit. The advantage comes strictly from efficiency and not by speeding.
This would also reduce charging times to 1 hour, 19 minutes (in theory). The current pain and anguish approach to driving across the country in an EV is nearly eliminated.
Smacking Down Gas Vehicle Records?
But what if someone decided they were going to go all out in this hypothetical run across the country in this hypothetical Aptera with 350 kW charging? I’ll admit, I just watched APEX: The Secret Race Across America, so let’s get this out of my system (for now).
We don’t know what the Aptera’s drive system is going to be like in terms of gearing and top speeds, so this could be impossible, but if the vehicle is capable of going at twice the posted speeds and were to somehow avoid all traffic and cops, what would that look like?
According to A Better Route Planner (with insane settings applied, of course), this trip could occur in 25:21, with about 3 hours of charging time included. The vehicle isn’t going to get anywhere near 10 miles/kWh at those speeds, but it would still get around the same efficiency as a Nissan LEAF does with a mix of city and highway driving. The Aptera’s shell would just be that efficient.
On top of all that, it would beat the current known gas-powered Cannonball record (28:50).
Even this doesn’t really cover how efficient this hypothetical Aptera would be. I told ABRP that the car would get 10 miles/kWh, but didn’t tell it that the vehicle is lighter and has far less rolling resistance. The true numbers could turn out to be much better, whether at the speed limit or at insane speeds few have ever attempted over such long distances.
Even if the Aptera proves to have a low top speed like many budget EVs do today (90-100 MPH), somebody somewhere is going to modify one or build a custom vehicle that’s equally efficient and can achieve those speeds.
If one decided to throw green out the window and use fossil fuels, it could be possible to build a hybrid vehicle with a microturbine or small rotary range extender (with a smaller 10-20 kWh buffer battery) and eliminate all fuel stops on a transcontinental trip. A hydrogen-burning range extender or fuel cell vehicle could even keep the green factor, but I have yet to run the numbers on any of that.
I look forward to seeing any of this happen. For science!