Aptera Motors debuted with a splash more than two years ago, unveiling its three-wheeled, wide set electric cars to much media fanfare.
Since then, the Vista company continued to court press, but struggled to keep up with self-imposed deadlines for newer models, and found fundraising difficult. When a journalist friend of Aptera's Chief Executive Officer Paul Wilbur advised, "Shut up until you have the hardware to back it up," Wilbur took his advice.
Standing in a McClellan-Palomar Airport hangar designed to resemble a nightclub, Aptera unveiled its latest model, the Aptera 2E, to a crowd of journalists and sponsors.
"We've kind of been a little quiet the last few months," Wilbur said. "We made a strategic decision to kind of lower our whole company awareness for a little while, until we achieved two things.
"Number one, we had to plan a solvent solution for funding the company," he continued. "And two, we didn't want to do any talking to you until we had a fully integrated vehicle to show you."
The new Aptera 2E still has a space-aged design, with a white fiberglass body, hood and windshield that look more like a small plane than a car, and tapered trunk section. The front has two wide-set wheels reminiscent of a Formula 1 race car; the back balances on one wheel. The "gull-wing" doors open upward, like some of the most expensive Italian sports cars.
What differentiates the 2E is a more spacious cabin, especially the trunk, which can hold two sets of golf clubs and several suitcases at once. The doors have roll-down windows, and other hardware and software amenities have been improved. The car still only seats two.
In a private interview, Wilbur said that as capital markets and funds dried up with the ailing economy, Aptera had trouble staying afloat. The company had to lay off a significant percentage of its work force. But, he said Aptera was careful not to lose any of its engineering staff, which is why they were able to keep working on a new model. Now that the company has found more funding and rolled out the new model, Wilbur said they've managed to hire some people back.
Wilbur said the company persevered because its people believe in what they're doing.
"Most of my automotive career was in ... Detroit, (and) I've never seen a vehicle like this," he said. "I think a lot of people feel that they want to be a part of an opportunity to change the world. That doesn't happen very often."
For funding, Aptera has formed strategic partnerships, which are helping to improve the design, battery and other features. The company has applied for some government grants, including a $184 million loan, which Aptera is still waiting to hear about.
Aptera is also entering the 2E in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a contest being held in Michigan later this month to find an energy efficient passenger vehicle that can be mass produced and affordable.
Wilbur said that even if Aptera doesn't win, he's grateful for the X Prize contest because it could give some validation to these energy-efficient cars, and provide a third-party testament to their potential.
"I don't ever want to be lumped in with the likes of car companies like Yugos and Bricklins and DeLoreans," he said. "We take this business very, very seriously."
Video: The Aptera 2E
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