Published on December 9th, 2020 | by Jennifer Sensiba0
We Learned A LOT About The Aptera Today
December 9th, 2020 by Jennifer Sensiba
Today, Aptera hosted an online Q&A session, covering a variety of topics about the vehicle. In addition to its announcements from a few days ago, the company also now has a video giving us some much better views of the vehicle (more information below the video).
Today’s Q&A session gave us TONS of great information about the company and its vehicle.
Pre-Orders Still Going
Pre-orders are still available, but the first versions of the vehicle are sold out. You can get yours here, and save $30 on the reservation fee. CleanTechnica gets a referral, and that helps us get a long-term independent test vehicle. International orders are being accepted (see more toward the bottom of this article).
We finally got a lot more information about the vehicle’s charging. First off, Aptera is still selecting components and vendors for the onboard charger, DC fast charging, etc..
We’ve seen images (including in the above video) depicting the vehicle with a Tesla plug. When I reached out to Aptera directly, they told me that which plug the vehicle will have is still an open question, so it’s possible that the Aptera will use Tesla’s technology and infrastructure. It’s also possible that it will go with standard J1772 and/or CCS plugs. During the Q&A, Aptera did say that it may “Supercharge,” but they also mentioned a 50 kW rate, which is far below what a Tesla Supercharger would give us, so they may have been using that term generically. Either way, it’s safe to say that the question of Tesla tech is still not decided.
It’s apparent that the vehicle is supposed to get about 10 miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity used from the battery pack. Thus, a 25 kWh pack can go 250 miles, a 40 kWh pack goes 400 miles, etc.. It’s simple math to figure out the rest.
On a wall plug, Aptera said it could add about 150 miles of range overnight on a normal 120V wall plug. That works out to about 12 hours of charging, not accounting for losses. In 8 hours, and after charging losses of 10%, it works out to about 100 miles. For nearly all drivers, a wall plug will be enough even without solar charging.
Aptera said it also expects to have 3 kilowatt (kW) and 6 kW onboard chargers, which would give far more range added per hour. With the efficiency, a 6 kW charger would add 60 miles per hour, so even level 2 plugs that are available in more places than level 3 will be far more useful.
A 50 kW station (which is the minimum the company seems to be wanting, but it may have faster onboard chargers) would add 500 miles per hour. Thus, you’d get way more range in a 20-30 minute charging session than you get with other vehicles charging at that rate. This makes road trips far more feasible and far less painful than other EVs, and that’s with current charging infrastructure.
If Aptera supports faster chargers, this would be even greater for road trips, but we do need to consider that there will be tapering. We don’t know what those tapering numbers will look like yet. However, given the efficiency and range, you’ll probably not need to charge the pack over 60-80% in most cases and will be able to spend more time at peak charging speeds on trips.
An educated guess is that on a 250 kW Supercharger with the 100 kWh pack, you could add 600 miles in 15 minutes or the whole 1000 in about 45 minutes. If you get peak speeds until 60%, that would take the car from almost dead to there in about 15 minutes, and then take another half hour to add the rest (assuming you even need that). A 350 kW charger (like at Electrify America) could probably do the 600 miles in 10 minutes and the whole pack in 35 minutes or so.
In reality, those speeds are probably overkill for this vehicle, but they’d sure be nice for road trips.
Aptera told us today that with the solar cells covering the back hatch (that’s optional), you’d end up with a peak of 700 watts, but that’s something you won’t see much. The company did test the cells in a fake roof for a year before claiming that it adds 40 miles per day, but keep in mind that this testing happened in San Diego.
40 miles per day assumes the system adds 4 kWh of power to the pack. If you take that 700W of panels to places that see more clouds, get less direct sunlight (further north), etc., then you may get a lot less. At the peak of 700 watts, people living in sunny parts further south (especially the southwest), you may even get more than the 40 miles.
Either way, it would take almost a month of charging all day and no driving to fill a 100 kWh pack up. While that sounds very slow, it’s actually quite useful.
If you drive the car less than the solar cells can add, you can expect to almost never charge it. On good sunny days, you’d accumulate “rollover” miles, while on “bad” sun days, you’d eat into them a bit.
If you drive more than the solar can cover, then they’re still helpful. You’d just have to plug it in less often. Assuming you can park it out in the sun most days, you could watch the charge level, and maybe fill it back up when it gets to 50%, that way you always have some reserve in the “tank” for emergencies.
When it comes to the solar cells themselves, Aptera hasn’t announced who is going to supply the cells yet. It did seem like the company probably has a supplier picked, though. Hopefully soon we can learn more about how efficient the cells are, etc..
Other cool things are that Aptera is aiming for a 10 to 20 year design life, and the system itself weighs very little. After all, they’re mounting the cells to the car’s body and not to big glass panels like you’d see on a house roof.
The Cooling System Has No Radiator
This one is actually quite cool. On older Aptera designs, they tried to mimic aircraft radiator systems to keep the drag low. That wasn’t enough for them, so Aptera found a way to eliminate the radiators completely, which initially sounds absolutely insane for a liquid-cooled battery pack.
Aptera does have a plan to dissipate the heat, though. They told us today that the plan is to have small biologically-inspired channels throughout the car’s skin that the coolant gets pumped through. This allows most of the car’s exterior to serve as a radiator and allows the cooling system to produce zero drag and no wasted electricity on fans.
Another cool thing about the system is that when the car’s exterior frosts, we are likely to see cool fractal patterns on the car’s exterior where the heat melts the frost a bit.
How this would work in really hot places is probably an open question at this point, but with that much surface area to dissipate the heat, the car’s body could be enough to dissipate heat.
Performance & Versatility
The car’s efficiency doesn’t mean it will be slow. The 3-motor version will have 150 kW of output, which is close to what the Chevy Bolt puts out. The difference is that the car is half the weight and has far less drag, so it will have much better acceleration. Every time we see numbers on a vehicle like the Aptera, we have to keep in mind that they’re not directly comparable to other manufacturers.
With all this in mind, one of the presenters (jokingly) said, “It almost needs a weapons permit.”
Another cool thing is that the vehicle’s design gives it a lot of clearance. Aptera wanted to take advantage of this, so it is also going to offer an “off-roading” package with sturdier wheel fairings and a higher suspension. One of the cool things about lifting an Aptera is that it is likely to incur little to no drag penalty from doing so. The only thing that may give an off-roading Aptera a range hit would be the extra drag from off-road tires.
Aptera also told us that the vehicle will have a subframe in the rear near the back tire for both towing and being towed. Tow hooks will be available for front and rear to pull you out of the mud or pull a malfunctioning Aptera onto a tow truck. The vehicle will be able to tow a small trailer, but expect a huge range hit unless it’s a small, light, and aerodynamic trailer.
Safety & Repairs
For crash safety, the vehicle also seems to be very good. Previous versions of the Aptera did undergo federal safety testing (FMVSS), and it’s improved since then with better materials and design. While very strong, the composites are also able to flex a bit. Even a sledgehammer can’t get through, because the materials compress a bit and spring back to shape. In other words, you won’t be riding in a cheap plastic egg that you’d get smashed up in.
When asked about changing tires, they told us that removing the fender/fairing around a tire will be straightforward, and that once removed, you’ll get full access to the tire to change it yourself if you need to do so in a hurry.
Because the body has an ability to “bounce back,” most damage to the car will be skin-deep and can be repaired in pretty standard ways. However, if a wreck gives enough force to actually crack the shell, you can probably expect to replace the vehicle (as it would be totaled).
Aptera told us today that the infotainment system is going to be powered by Crank Software, based in Canada. The biggest goal is to use the infotainment systems to drive vehicle efficiency, but that doesn’t mean the company wants an unprofessional and/or unfriendly user experience. They want all information to be easily available, and to make sure surprises that users may face will be minimized.
While the usual information will be available up front, in-depth vehicle information including diagnostics, repair data, BMS details, etc., will all be available in the menus. The right to repair is a big deal to Aptera, so it is being transparent in ways nobody else is.
It’s also worth noting that the infotainment systems will be on an isolated network to protect critical systems, like BMS and drive. The information will be available from those systems, but they won’t be wide open to any hacker who gets into the vehicle’s infotainment system.
While it’s clear that things are still up in the air supplier-wise, we do know that it is working to come up with the most efficient systems it can for heat and A/C, and that it will be an ongoing process even after the first vehicles are delivered.
Resistive heating may be part of the equation, and that could cost a lot of range, but the company is experimenting with heat pumps, directly heating/cooling the driver and passenger, integrating it with the battery cooling system, and various other things to maximize efficiency.
Aptera said that the first year may come with only resistive heating, but that it’s something it will continue to improve as much as possible.
Manufacturing is a big deal to Aptera. One thing it has done is work with Munro and Associates to make sure it isn’t learning by making mistakes other automakers have already made. Design, manufacturing, supply chains, and a good mix of in-house/supplier work are all things Munro is helping it with.
The goal is to have some sub-assemblies ready to install from suppliers, and do the major assembly at its first plant in southern California. Aptera’s final plant won’t be filled with large tooling and big robots like many other automakers. The largest components are all liftable by two people, and it plans on using a smart mix of automation and human labor to get things right. Many pieces are self-aligning with the piece they fit onto, which saves a lot of need for specialized alignment tools.
The body’s four large pieces are the pan, the roof (spider), and the two side panels. They’re easily bonded together (this sounds like a glue-like process), and then other pre-built sub-assemblies. Between this and what Munro has helped it figure out, Aptera should be able to scale manufacturing relatively easily.
Miscellaneous Other Things
International orders can be made today. While orders coming from outside the US will take more time, the company encourages international customers to go ahead and put in preorders. (You can do that here and get $30 off, and help CleanTechnica get a long-term test vehicle). The company does point out that Polaris was able to get the Slingshot (a three-wheeler of similar size/weight) to most global markets, so it should also be able to do this in a reasonable time frame.
Front-wheel drive vehicles will be available from the beginning, while all-wheel drive (adding a motor to the rear wheel) will be available soon after. Aptera plans to offer the 400-mile version first, followed by the 600-mile version. Finally, it will offer the 250- and 1000-mile packs. They may be upgradeable later.
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