Published December 6, 2011
By Jeff Cobb
Would-be American electric and extended-range electric vehicle manufacturer, Aptera, ended the week saying it has ceased operations and will liquidate after failing to raise sufficient capital.
Company CEO Paul Wilbur said Aptera had gotten so far as to receive conditional approval for a U.S. Energy Department loan for $150 million, but additional attempts to gain more fell through.
Wilbur, a former Chrysler brand manager and CEO of ASC Inc., said plans wavered for its first vehicle, a mid-sized electric sedan, because in his view the EV investment market is wavering.
“A couple years ago, there were a lot of people who thought the automotive industry is easy," Wilbur said. "It isn't."
Wilbur said venture capital firms had initially led Aptera to believe they’d be willing to ante up funds if the federal government did first.
Although the government did what they asked, investors balked when it became apparent launching EVs can be more difficult than first anticipated, he said.
An American company
Like Fisker and Tesla, Aptera had positioned itself in California and aimed to build in the states – and the company intended to source 90 percent from domestic suppliers.
The Carlsbad-based startup was also discussing an agreement with GM that would allow it to use a former GM assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, Wilbur said.
The first model – the aerodynamic and lightweight electric sedan – was to have an all-composite body, deliver 130 miles range, return as high as 190 miles per gallon equivalent, and its airplane-without-wings look definitely caught people's attention.
An Aptera model had been a finalist in the competition for the Progressive Insurance X-Prize, and the company had attracted a fair amount of press, including a 2007 feature by Popular Mechanics, and a less optimistic portrayal by this publication.
The company had initially hoped to have vehicles in production in 2009, but those dreams were tempered by delays. Even back then HybridCars.com noted Wilbur's earlier takeover after ousting company founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony over disputes about the company's direction, and observed Aptera's future looked rocky indeed.
According to the company’s far more bright-sounding marketing copy on its Web site, other vehicles to follow, would cost from the high-$20,000s to mid-$40,000s.Planned powertrain options included extended-range electric and the company said it was pleased to design, engineer and manufacture in the U.S.A.
“Aptera embraces this American spirit through our Efficient Vehicle Design Formula,” Aptera wrote on its Web site. “It brings the practical notion of low energy consumption inline with the passion to drive and the freedom to go when and where we want. The result is a full complement of ultra-efficient passenger vehicles.”
Aptera had about 30 employees, and Wilbur said they have been let go. On the company’s Web site home page is a note thanking suppliers and supporters of the company’s efforts over the past five years.