Today, Aptera announced a solar electric vehicle that will not need to be plugged in for most regular uses, and it sports a 1,000 mile range on a full charge.
“With Aptera’s Never Charge technology, you are driven by the power of the sun. Our built-in solar array keeps your battery pack topped off and anywhere you want to go, you just go,” says co-founder Chris Anthony. Aptera says they will achieve this by making the vehicle as efficient as possible, allowing the relatively low amount of energy one can get from solar panels to do a lot more than it could for other electric vehicles.
The biggest thing Aptera does that others don’t is optimize the vehicle for low drag. With an airplane-like design and only three wheels, the car has a drag coefficient of just 0.13. To put this in perspective, a Tesla Model S has a drag coefficient of 0.24. With less “wind resistance,” travel at all speeds requires less energy, with the effect of saving more energy compared to normal cars increasing as the car goes faster. Aptera plans to do this while still having a 100 kWh battery pack, so the car will have great range.
Another way they’re planning to get better efficiency is by saving weight. Instead of using steel for most of the vehicle, they use composites and lighter metals wherever possible. With just four main pieces, the vehicle will also be relatively easy to manufacture in volume. Other ways they’re improving range is with efficient electric motors (no specifics were given), and with an onboard computer that helps optimize efficiency and gives the driver feedback to improve range.
While optimized for efficiency, the vehicle isn’t going to be a boring eco-box. The vehicle plans to offer a top speed of 110 MPH and acceleration from 0–60 mph in 3.5 seconds. On the other hand, count on not getting the 1,000 mile range if you have a heavy right foot, just as with any electric vehicle. Lower speeds and slower acceleration are key to getting the best range.
As I’ve pointed out before, efficiency equals speed, not only for going fast, but for charging, and that’s how Aptera can really make a “never charge” vehicle. Even before the addition of high-efficiency solar panels, the Aptera looked like a great proposition for EV road trips. By needing less energy per mile, the number of miles added in a few minutes of charging is far higher than with other EVs. Even level 2 charging can begin to approach slower level 3 speeds that other vehicles experience, at least in terms of miles added per minute charging.
In the past, we’ve covered solar-charged vehicles like the Sono Sion and a Toyota Prius prototype that get around 20 miles of range per day added from their panels, and that figure is very likely to improve as solar panels get more efficient. Higher cell efficiency allows them to deliver more power from the small surface area available to mount them on a car, so even traditional-shaped vehicles will eventually become “Never Charge” vehicles.
When this efficiency is combined with vehicle efficiency in the Aptera, they were able to achieve this before others. With only around 1–2 kW of power (around what level 1 charging gets you), Aptera says it will achieve up to 45 miles of range added per day. Presumably, that much energy will be added to the pack in sunny places, and won’t happen on cloudy days anywhere. Fortunately, having a 100 kWh pack will allow drivers to have “rollover miles” from previous sunny days to get them through cloudy ones, so the ability to plug the vehicle in (which Aptera will have) should see very little use for most drivers unless they’re doing something unusual like going for a road trip.
In short, “almost-never charge” really is possible. Aptera is not selling us snake oil.
Aptera will be showing the new vehicle off this evening at at 6:00 PM Pacific Time on its Facebook page. The Aptera will be available to pre-order at www.aptera.us beginning at 4:00 PM PT on December 4. For a refundable fee of $100, customers can reserve one of a limited number of special edition Paradigm and Paradigm+ vehicles, which will be the first produced in 2021. They can also design and customize their own Aptera and choose ranges of 250, 400, 600, or 1,000 miles in both AWD and FWD packages. Pricing is between $25,900–46,900+.