Is a 3 Wheel Vehicle a Car? House Votes Yes, New Bill Could Jeopardize EVs Like Aptera 2e and Zap Alias

Aptera 2e

Aptera 2e

Enlarge Photo

Motorcycles and cars have different standards to be met.  For one, cars are subject to the rigors of extensive safety testing and require mandated safety equipment.  This drives the cost of cars up.  Motorcycles on the other hand do not have crash safety standards and are not required to implement items such as airbags and seat-belts.  But what is a car and what is a motorcycle?

Until recently, the guidelines were clear cut.  Federal law defined any road going vehicle with less than four wheels as a motorcycle.  Therefore, a trike such as the Aptera 2e and the Zap Alias are considered motorcycles. 

No problem with that definition, but Aptera has applied for funding under the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program which gives federal money to support advanced "cars".  Problem is, the Aptera 2e is not considered a car and was therefore denied funding.

Now California congressional members are looking to change the law to include vehicles like those mentioned above in the car category.  Aptera may be happy with the decision as it means they may have a chance to receive funding, but other upstart three wheel EV producer are not.  The new legislation aims to change the law to "include any enclosed vehicle that seats at least 2 adults and gets at least 75 mpg" into the car category.  The guidelines seem very specific, but what if a vehicle gets 74 mpg, then it's a motorcycle.  Seems to be a significant loophole. 

Surprisingly, the legislation has already passed through the House and is now waiting for Senate approval and the President's endorsement to become a law.

If the new legislation passes, the Aptera 2e as well as other similar vehicles, will have to undergo crash testing, will require airbags, as well as meeting all other safety requirements of cars.  This become increasingly difficult to achieve as many of these vehicles are diminutive in size, low in mass, and their eye catching designs are not aptly suited for crashing.  Most importantly, this well significantly increase the costs of such vehicles.

Aptera believes their 2e will easily meet the safety standards and has even stated that the vehicle will undergo crash testing even if it is certified as a motorcycle.  They are confident of the vehicles safety, but other producers in this category are likely certain that their vehicles will not pass crash safety standards as they were not designed to from the beginning.

The issue is a hot topic of debate with many makers and politicians involved.  So what is a motorcycle and what is a car?

Source:  Wall Street Journal

Posted in:
Follow Us

Comments (13)
  1. Good grief. Congress just should have included motorcycles as possible recipients for their ATVM program, instead of reclassifying the Aptera as a car. There are a number of electric motorbike companies that should receive funding - Brammo, Zero, Mission Motors and soon to be Honda and Yamaha.

  2. I say let Aptera continue to lead the pack, and if the 2e can pass car safety standards and still sell for under $30K, kudos to them for proof of concept and let others catch up.
    We need the Fed to continue to lead with common sense EV standards and classifications to encourage EVs that are both safe and affordable.
    (I live in CT where one can't even license an NEV and the State standards make it nearly impossible to put a homegrown EV on the road unless you register it out of state. Perhaps getting 3 wheelers classified as automobiles could help cange that.)

  3. I agree with Mark on this one. This is ultimately another stepping stone on the path to acceptance and serious consumer embrace of EVs. Obviously if the bill passes than those who have been working with crash testing all along will rise to the top -- I know safety has been on the mind of Zap Motors since day one, so they should feel gratified here -- but that's all the better. We want safe, US-made clean vehicles at a decent price; the successful companies will be the ones who balance it all out.

  4. I agree with Mark and Earl. Light weight and aero are obviously the key to acceptable EV range. Aptera is leading the pack on these critical issues. I would love to see them qualify for govenment support. Go Aptera!

  5. If Aptera wants to be classified as a 3 wheel car, that's fine. I just believe that Zero Motorcycles, Mission Motors, Brammo and KLD Energy Technologies' vehicles should be considered for funding of their factories.

  6. This article makes a surprising (and incorrect) leap in logic. Th elegal change to 75 mpg and enclosed applies only to getting a loan via the ATVM. It has nothing to do with crash standards.
    I agree that Aptera claims to be very safe, but let's no mix things up.

  7. I agree with the definition of enclosed, but there is no sense in having the additional qualification of mpg.

  8. Aptera contains ideal and ingenuity of future generations, I think.

  9. I think that Congress needs to approach carefully since the 3 wheel market is still forming. For me, I drive scooter (no seat belt, no air bag, etc.); I would like to see a reasonable balance in safety between 2 and 4 wheels. I think a new class should be defined. I don't want innovation to be stunted because of excessive regulation early in an emerging market.

  10. Being in the restraint business for years and having to develope restraint system for each vehicle according to its design I agree with Heath.
    There should be a new class vehicle developed over time.
    The only requirements at this time for three wheel cars should be it is enclosed, has seat belts and meets at aminimum motorcycle FMVSS and EPA requireents.
    This would make the vehicle safer than a two or three wheel open vehicle.

  11. Folks ... The good people of Wisconsin have already addressed a similar problem by creating a third category of vehicle. It is not a car and it is not a motorcycle. It is defined as "any vehicle with three or more wheels that weights less than 1500 pounds and ... " it then goes on to list the remaining qualifications for this category. This is in fact the category in which a three wheeled vehicle would be registered presently in Wisconsin. I believe that by creating this third kind of vehicle, and defining in such a way as to promote safety plus efficient and inexpensive transportation, is better than messing about redefining two categories of vehicles where the definitions seem to be perfectly clear and appropriate as they are.

  12. This is a great example of why bureaucrats shouldn’t do ANYTHING technical. I can buy a motorcycle, which is incredibly dangerous to operate, but I can’t buy a light-weight ‘city’ car, because some knot head wants to protect me from myself. F’em. We shouldn’t be giving money to any private companies – if the idea has merit, it will succeed. This is a law designed to get government funding to basically one company – did anybody else actually notice those shenanigans? We, in fact , REALLY need a light-car category that is free from most of the onerous safety regulations forced onto us by big brother. They are often counterproductive and add unnecessary weight to the vehicle – especially in the case of the inner-city car where the consumer is trying to replace a scooter, or motorcycle and just looking for a bit of shelter from the rain. Furthermore, the Big Three have Washington in their pocket, or they would allow some common sense small city vehicles, like the Japanese Kei cars, which already have pollution and safety standards in place, but that are extraordinarily fuel efficient, which would put even more pressure on domestic producers. In the end, it’s all political nonsense.

  13. Obama is doing Health Care Reform & he isn't going to think about your SAFETY while in this vehicle?
    First thing to come up will be can this vehicle PASS Safety requirements. None of them has done any Safety testing. Now might be a goo time to start; you won't Qualify for money until you do!

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.