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Screenshot from Jay Leno's Garage.


Aptera Goes On Jay Leno’s Garage 13 Years After Its First Appearance

Aptera, the company building airplane-like cars that CleanTechnica has been covering for over a decade, is making a lot of progress. Not only do they have a lot of pre-orders (you can get your pre-order in for $30 off here), but they’re partnering with established automotive design and manufacturing companies to get past the finish line and get their cars in customer hands.

This Isn’t Leno’s First Aptera Rodeo

While some people might think the comedian-turned automotive reviewer wouldn’t like electric vehicles compared to all of the gas-guzzling sports cars he loves, he’s actually a big supporter of clean technologies. He even has his own 1909 Baker Electric in the garage. Plus, he was excited about the car the first time he drove one in 2009.

The original Aptera got a lot of attention, and not only because of its looks. It not only showed up at government events and car shows, but also showed up in the 2009 Star Trek film. Like today’s Aptera, the original prototypes were designed for maximum efficiency and had their signature “airplane” looks for the best possible aerodynamic drag numbers. The original one had a drag coefficient of 0.15, which would still be the most efficient mass-produced car on the road today. Another way the original car got great range was through use of lightweight composites, achieving a weight below 2000 pounds.

The original Aptera had a solar panel on the roof, but solar technology has made a lot of progress in the last 12–13 years. The old Aptera prototypes could only use the solar power to support climate control. Other differences include front-wheel drive with an inboard electric motor (the newer Apteras have hub motors) and an interior that looked very 2009.

Power levels were far lower than the newer Aptera with hub motors, but even with only 50 kW, Jay Leno said the acceleration was “actually pretty good,” and that handling was great. He didn’t notice any real difference, despite having one fewer wheel compared to most cars. He also noticed that the car could coast for a great distance without losing much speed (something any hypermiler can appreciate).

“Almost every car we’ve passed, somebody’s taking a picture with a cell phone,” Leno said when he freeway tested the old Aptera.

Leno’s New Video Shows Just How Far We’ve Come In 12 Years

In 2009, EVs were the rare exception, not something that people figured would be a future norm. Tesla was only selling the OG Roadster. The first Nissan LEAF with 60 miles of range was over a year away. Despite how far the industry has come since then, the Aptera’s unique and updated looks still stand out in big ways.

One of the cool things about the video is that Jay Leno took the role of a person who knows nothing about Aptera, despite probably knowing quite a bit. This allowed viewers who aren’t familiar with the car or EVs in general to have someone advocate for them and get the answers to common questions they need. This really helps people to understand a vehicle that would probably otherwise be misunderstood.

Like the rest of the market, Aptera has also made some big changes in their second go at mass production. Instead of one inboard electric motor, the new Aptera has 2 or 3 in-wheel hub motors. Solar technology has improved to the point where one can get 40 miles a day in San Diego from sun power alone, making for a car that some drivers won’t ever have to even plug in. Even if you do have to plug it in, the efficiency means that you’ll get over 100 miles from a normal wall outlet overnight.

Battery technology has also come a long, long way since 2009. The original Aptera only promised a freeway range of around 100 miles, and a plugin-hybrid version of the car would have been needed or wanted by many owners. The hybrid version of the car would have gotten 130 MPG after the battery range was depleted. Now, Aptera is offering range options of 250, 400, 600, or even 1000 miles of electric range, and no hybrid versions.

On top of that, batteries are now going to be liquid-cooled, as we’ve learned before. The old Aptera was going to be air-cooled with some air from the HVAC system cooling the pack, but now portions of the vehicle’s skin will be used as a radiator, allowing for even greater aerodynamic efficiency.

Another new thing I learned from the video is that Aptera put some effort in to include a small frunk. Generally, I’ve found frunks inconvenient for EVs and even one gas-powered vehicle I’ve owned (a Pontiac Fiero), because the bottom of the frunk must be removed for some maintenance tasks, like accessing a 12-volt battery. Aptera seems to have laid its frunk out in such a way as to ease access to essential maintenance items, so it’s probably a useful place to store things.

Being a three-wheeled vehicle, a perfect 50:50 front-rear weight distribution didn’t make a lot of sense. The new Aptera is designed to have more weight on the front wheels for maximum stability. By going 65:35, they’re giving each wheel equal weight (2/3 of weight up front on two wheels, 1/3 of weight on the single rear wheel). Aptera’s Co-CEOs hope to put some more weight on the rear before production, though.

The interior is obviously very different from 2009’s Aptera. Over a decade has passed, and Aptera chose to go more toward what Tesla is doing with a minimalist design. Personally, as a reservation holder, I hope that the vehicle doesn’t go as far with the minimalism as Tesla is going (no turn signal or gear selection stalk), but I’m excited about the efficiency and range enough that I’d keep my order regardless.

Once Jay Leno took it for a ride, he realized pretty quickly that it had great acceleration, stability, and other vehicle dynamics despite being an early test vehicle. Subsequent vehicles have refinements from companies like Roush, allowing for an even better ride. Interior room, comfort, and electronic mirrors also looked great.

One of the other things he still thinks today is that the Aptera looks great. It’s not dorky like a BMW i3 or first-generation Nissan LEAF (I liked the OG LEAF, but know I’m an oddball). Having a vehicle that stands out while still having some kind of cool factor is something Aptera really has going for it.

Featured image: Screenshot from Jay Leno’s Garage.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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