Stick A Fork In Aptera, It’s All Done

Many a great idea has gone unheralded, buried in the annals of history as nothing more than a footnote to greatness. Some ideas are just ahead of their time, like Chrysler’s “aero” cars. Others suffered inexplicable setbacks, like the fire that destroyed Nikolai Tesla’s life’s work. And then there are the ideas that seemed silly from the start before succumbing to reality.

So ends the story of three-wheeled carmaker Aptera.

On Friday Aptera officially called it quits after failing to secure another round of Federal funding or private equity. But Aptera was dead long before that, as our 2009 exclusive story “Inside Aptera’s Troubles” (click here for Part II) reveals. A sketchy management team led by Paul Wilber and Laura Marion not only managed to not raise much money for Aptera, but also insisted on changing every aspect of the high-mileage automobile before it could roll off the production floor.

Their last hope hinged on a DOE loan of $150 million to produce a 4-door sedan similar to a Toyota Camry with 190 MPGe that cost under $30,000. According to Wilbur’s farewell letter, they were “so close” to getting this loan that they were in negotiations to re-open an auto plant in Ohio. Unfortunately, “so close” doesn’t cut it in this game, and Wilbur was unable to secure private investors to match the government’s loan, meaning the company got neither. The last cash infusion I can find mention of was a paltry $9.8 million in 2010. And I can guarantee you that anybody who wants to build a car needs more than that.

Which brings about an important point; the Aptera’s design was never going to catch on en masse, period. Three wheels are inferior to four in a vehicle like the Aptera, and the funky sperm-like design wasn’t likely to win over many doubters either. Sure, the drag coefficient of 0.15 was astounding and the hybrid model would have gotten around 300 mpg. On paper, it sounded great.

But Aptera first got started back in 2006, and since then they had taken over 4,000 deposits (which were returned back in August) while continuing to delay production. Aptera also failed to make the final cut for the Progressive Automotive X-Prize. It just wasn’t stable or efficient enough at highway speeds, costs were mushrooming, and Aptera switched facilities several times while failing to ever sell a single car. The ground-breaking design proved to be more trouble than it was worth in the end.

Looking back, it is hard to see how any of us could take Aptera seriously. By the time I had even heard of them the company had already become a joke, and the idea of Americans seriously considering a three-wheel, sperm-shaped EV or hybrid seems…well, it seems just as silly as their management team insisting that everything, even the door handles, be changed on what was an almost-ready vehicle.  Questionable design, sketchy management, and delay after delay after delay doomed an idea that already had little hope of actually catching on

Perhaps Aptera could have carved a niche out for itself, much like Tesla has, had certain things gone in their favor. But this is the end of their story, now and probably forever. Another great idea becomes just another footnote.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.