Aptera: It's Baaaaaaaaack! (We'll Believe It When We See it)

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Aptera 2e development prototype at company offices in Vista, California

Aptera 2e development prototype at company offices in Vista, California

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This story is now a couple of weeks old, but we haven't hurried to publish it.

The gist is that the unique Aptera three-wheeled electric car is supposedly going to be reborn, and will return to the U.S. market sometime next year.

A new company, Aptera USA, purchased the assets of the old Aptera after its December shutdown--including the designs and the trademark for the plastic-bodied 2e electric car.

That car had been put on the back burner back in January 2011, when the company turned its attention to a four-wheel vehicle in an ultimately futile attempt to win low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.

The new company--initially to be named Zaptera, about which more later--plans to build the rolling shell of the new Aptera in China, it says, and install the lithium-ion battery pack and electric running gear in the States.

Weirdly, the Chinese builder, Zhejiang Jonway, competed against Aptera in the Progressive Automotive X Prize contest, which Aptera had high hopes of winning--and did not after a door flew open on the handling test.

Aptera 2e during Automotive X-Prize handling tests, from Consumer Reports video on YouTube

Aptera 2e during Automotive X-Prize handling tests, from Consumer Reports video on YouTube

Enlarge Photo

The new three-wheeler is said to use a 20-kilowatt-hour pack with cells from A123 Systems--which also provides batteries for the Fisker Karma and the upcoming Chevrolet Spark EV--powering a 82-kilowatt (110-horsepower) electric motor.

At some point this year, the new team plans to reactivate the Aptera website and begin taking deposits again, with priority going to previous Aptera depositors.

Ultimately, the new company plans to sell the car not just in California, as old Aptera planned, but across the U.S. and internationally. The projected price is around $25,000.

Frankly, we'll believe it when we see it.

We're glad, though, that the reborn Aptera is apparently not affiliated with Zap Jonway. Zap has a long and well-documented history of not delivering promised products on time; read the 2008 Wired expose to which we've linked for the whole sordid story.

But there are several factors working against the new Aptera.

Aptera 2e

Aptera 2e

Enlarge Photo

First, it's incredibly expensive and takes a very long time to start up a car company in the U.S. and get certification for any new vehicle. (Whether the company will certify the new Aptera as a three-wheel car or a motorcycle is open to question.)

Second, the market for two-seat vehicles in the U.S. has always been tiny, at 100,000 units or less out of a market of up to 15 million vehicles.

Third, the market for plug-in electric vehicles--which remain expensive to buy--is equally small at the moment, though it will grow over time.

Finally, it takes a special kind of owner to want to drive an all-electric two-seater that also has just three wheels and looks like a Cessna cabin shorn of its wings.

Don't get us wrong; we think the Aptera is a neat car and a thought-provoking exercise in ultra-efficient transportation design. But whether it's a viable business is a different question.

So while we're eager to learn more about the resuscitated Aptera, and certainly to drive a production version of the car ... we're not going to hold our breath.

As Domenick Yoney, our respected colleague at AutoblogGreen, wrote in an update to his original story:

Sometimes 1 + 1 ≠ 2.

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