It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Aptera. Its upcoming solar-electric vehicle will be able to go up to 1,000 miles (1600 km) on a charge, but for most people doing their normal routines, the vehicle won’t usually need to charge at all. This sounds outlandish to many people because cars just don’t have that much space for solar cells, and can’t collect that much energy in a day.
So how does the vehicle manage this? It does this by being super efficient. Its extremely aerodynamic shape, its light weight, and only having three wheels (this makes it an autocycle under most states’ laws) all add up to just not using that much power to move. It only uses 1/3 of the power other EVs use, in fact. This gives the vehicle amazing range, but it also gives it the ability to add up to 40 miles of range per day from the 700 watts’ worth of solar cells on its body.
Amazed? So am I! I even have a couple of pre-orders in (you can get $30 off yours here) and plan to order at least one more for my kids to drive to high school and college.
It’s a tradeoff to have a car that can only seat two people and that doesn’t have the utility of something like an SUV, but let’s be real for a minute. Many of us (myself included) drive a lot of miles either alone or with only one other person in the car with us. Even people with kids often commute to work alone. Every trip in the family’s rolling McMansion isn’t to go find adventure at the edge of the wilderness or to go get big piles of wood at Home Depot, either. When we claim that we need to commute daily to work in a pickup truck or SUV, we’re lying to ourselves.
But then again, who wants to have an extra car payment? The SUV or other inefficient vehicle makes sense if it covers all of your needs most months, right?
That’s where electric motorcycles, e-bikes, and other single-person transportation comes in. With low prices compared to even 3-wheeled EVs, an electric motorcycle or bicycle can take care of the commute without adding an extra car payment to the family budget. Then, when you need to take the whole family somewhere, drive in the worst weather, or pick up material at Lowe’s, you can use the bigger car (and the bigger electricity bill and carbon footprint that goes with it).
This concept of using the most efficient vehicle for every job is called “rightsizing.” By not carrying around extra weight and extra energy use, you can prevent a lot of emissions and save money.
The Federal Government Doesn’t See It That Way
There’s only one state that I’m aware of that has programs to pitch in and encourage the use of vehicles with less than 4 wheels: California. There’s a program for electric bikes, funded with $10 million, to provide a partial rebate for every e-bike bought by state residents who meet the qualifications. Motorcycles are also eligible for state vehicle rebates like cars, but with a lower amount than for more expensive cars.
At the federal level, tax credits are currently limited to only vehicles with 4 wheels, and upcoming expansions of the program are likewise limited.
So if someone’s needs are met by an Aptera or an electric motorcycle, and the person doesn’t live in a state that starts in Calif and ends in -ornia, there’s no incentive to rightsize an electric vehicle. In other words, there’s an incentive to buy a vehicle that’s too big for a person’s daily transportation needs.
Why This Matters
Almost any EV is better than a gas-powered vehicle (at least environmentally speaking), so some readers might wonder why it matters that people aren’t able to use federal incentives for something like an Aptera, an electric motorcycle, or an e-bike. At least they’re getting an EV, right?
The problem is that new EVs seem to be getting hungrier and hungrier for power. We don’t have the exact power consumption per mile figures for something like the 9,000-pound Hummer EV, but it can’t be great. We won’t need to double the power grid’s generating capacity like Elon Musk claimed, but there will be extra strain if new EVs keep getting bigger and bigger, because they’ll need to charge at 11, 16, or even 22 kilowatts just to get a good charge overnight. Or they’ll take twice as long to charge, and will end up taking up power during peak hours, and that could lead to some new capacity being needed.
Compare this to an Aptera, though. It won’t need to charge at all in most cases. This will mean not only no emissions from a tailpipe, but no pressure or emissions coming from the long tailpipe of the grid. An electric motorcycle doesn’t have room for much in the way of solar cells, but even when plugged in, it will usually be able to charge using a normal wall plug, using less electric power than a space heater for a small room.
If we want to transition to EVs without increasing our need for electricity generation, we’ll need to embrace efficient EVs with two or three wheels. Including them in any federal incentive program makes a lot of sense.
How You Can Help
Plug In America (the old-school EV advocacy group, founded after the untimely death of the EV1) has a website where you can input your information to lobby members of congress on this issue.
So, there’s really no excuse for not stepping up on this one. Plug In America did all of the legwork for you, and your browser probably will auto-fill everything they ask for. If enough of us give them just a minute of our time, we can make a difference on this issue.
While you’re at it, if you have a few spare bucks, be sure to show Plug In America some love so they can keep giving us these action items and helping connect us to officials when it’s needed most. You can do that here.
Featured image provided by Aptera.
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