A few days ago, Aptera put out a monthly update. Most importantly, the company revealed its factory, which is an important sign that the company is really headed to production. Aptera also revealed the next (and third) stage of vehicle prototypes, the Gamma, which is fairly close to production. One interesting tidbit is that Aptera is trying to use the Tesla charging connector instead of CCS, which would be another very Tesla-like move for the company.
The New Factory
Unlike Tesla, a larger and more established company, Aptera had to do what Tesla did for its first factory: use an existing building. In Tesla’s case, the NUMMI building was big and empty, but needed a lot of work to get it ready to build the Model S. In Aptera’s case, they needed to take a building that was full of offices and tear the offices out, which took a lot of work in terms of both demolition and getting the floor ready.
Manufacturing equipment is on order, and Aptera is looking to start scaling manufacturing later in 2022. Once it scales up, the large factory will focus on final assembly, while some smaller spaces the company has leased or bought will focus on building sub-assemblies, like battery packs or drivetrains.
Sub-assemblies and cars in the production process will be moved along on small autonomous vehicles by Red Viking, making for a more flexible assembly line instead of fixed lines that will require a lot of money to change when that’s needed in the future. Plus, when things go wrong, the little carts can exit the line and take the car for special work as needed and then re-enter the queue when the vehicle is ready to continue production.
The big challenge that the company says it just licked was preparing the floor to let these autonomous carts go anywhere.
Charging, Tesla Connector
Charging is where the biggest news was. Aptera’s biggest concern is that charging infrastructure is really deficient in the United States and that isn’t going to change a lot in the near term. Aptera isn’t just thinking of charging stations, but also the grid itself and the way utilities think about power. Adding vehicles is going to be a challenge.
The company is also very unhappy with the CCS and J1772 connectors. “It wasn’t elegant at all,” Chris Anthony, one of the company’s co-CEOs said of the J1772 connector. He says that the Tesla connector was a lot nicer, while DC fast charging became even more clunky and weird with CCS and CHAdeMO. Steve Fambro agreed, saying that they’re not happy with those connection standards.
The bottom line: Aptera thinks the United States should adopt the Tesla connector, which tells you what it is likely to do. But, I’d stop short of what other outlets are saying, as they didn’t quite say that they are going to use the Tesla connector, or that they want to. They just think it’s better. What they actually end up doing could run into practical issues as infrastructure build-outs embrace CCS.
Other Technical Updates
As we knew previously, Aptera is getting its hub motors from Elaphe. Along with Aptera, Elaphe is also preparing and gearing up for mass production to fit overall production needs. So, there are whole factories being built and expanded in Europe to supply these important parts to Aptera. But most importantly, that process is under way and not just theoretical.
Given the big goal the company has (1000 miles on 100 kWh), it’s important to note that Elaphe is still working on tweaking the final Aptera motor design for maximum efficiency.
Work on the battery modules and packs, based on 2170 cells with liquid cooling, is also well underway. The first vehicles to hit the road will have 41 kWh of usable capacity (giving around 400 miles of range), followed by the 250 kWh vehicles. Next, the 600-mile and 1000-mile cars will go into production. EVE Energy has been working with the company to build cells that work best for Aptera’s car.
Development of the chassis continues to make progress, too. Teams have been torture-testing the vehicles and trying to make them break. They smacked the vehicle into curbs so hard that they tore a tire off the rim, and they want the vehicle or suspension itself to not buckle under such stresses.
Wheel covers (the fenders over the front tires) have been a big point of criticism for the company in its videos. They’re big, they give the vehicle a wide, wide stance, and they tend to be kind of loose and whompy in the air, wiggling and jiggling on the street. The company showed a video with the latest improved design, simulating different speeds and vibrational frequencies. It now won’t vibrate like it did until reaching over 200 miles per hour. The vehicle has a maximum speed of 110 MPH, so that won’t be a problem in the real world.
As we’ve known, the wiring on the Aptera is supposed to be very simple compared to most vehicles. The company is staying with that philosophy, and working with an established company to make the most efficient harnesses possible. They showed a video of the low voltage test bench they use to program firmwares in the various controllers.
The vehicle will not have keys. It will have RFID keycard, bluetooth, and a “tap” method of access.
Solar cells are a bigger challenge than most would think. Solar that sits still on a house or business is one thing, but something that must deal with the vibrations and other harshness operating on a vehicle is another thing entirely. Aptera is still (just as during my visit there in November) still very secretive on this, as it’s something the company has put a lot of research into.
The Gamma Development Vehicle
The shape of the vehicle has continued to change. The shape of the fenders/wheel covers has been changed to work better with the vehicle. The same has been done with the real wheel skirt, producing less drag on that tire. The rear of the vehicle has also been made less thick to further reduce drag. Despite making the vehicle bigger for occupants, Aptera has achieved lower drag than the Alpha design.
The first Gamma vehicles have not been built, but the design is ready to build this second to last version of the vehicle, but we can expect to see it in a month or so.
The interior has been redesigned, too. The controversial choice of wheel (a yoke) is also accompanied by a number of other changes. The center console will be modular, and you’ll be able to choose different things for different parts of the console. The interior design process used VR for testing, giving people the opportunity to see what it’s like before it’s built, which helps avoid space and other problems like was seen with the Alpha design.
Aptera offered more detail on why it chose the yoke wheel. One reason was that they wanted to be futuristic, but they think their take on a yoke has better ergonomics than others we’ve seen. It also makes the vision system (cameras instead of mirrors) work better and safer.
Will Aptera offer something for people with Oculus/Meta headsets? They didn’t say, but I’d like to see that.
Finally, we’re going to see four additional solar cells on the hood, and others that we don’t know about yet elsewhere on the vehicle. So, available solar power is going up!
More Was Discussed, But You’ll Need To Watch The Video
There were a number of other topics discussed in the update, especially in the Q&A part of the presentation. I can’t cover them all here, but I’ll embed the video below.
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Featured image: What Aptera’s Factory Will Look Like With Equipment On Order. Image by Aptera.