By voting 80 to 17 to approve a compromise bill allocating $33.5 billion to fund energy and water projects, the U.S. Senate yesterday also redefined what qualifies as an "automobile".
Once President Barack Obama signs the measure, a vehicle with only three wheels can--for the purpose of allocating Department of Energy funds for its Advanced Technology Vehicle program--be considered an automobile.
Beneficiary: Aptera 2e
In particular, this unusual provision benefits Aptera Motors, of Vista, California, which is developing an ultra-aerodynamic three-wheeled electric car, the 2e.
Aptera 2e Production Design Image
Aptera 2e development prototype at company offices in Vista, California
First deliveries of the 2e are expected to start this October
Aptera 2e, photo by Jason H. Harper
Development versions of the final 2011 Aptera 2e are expected to go into limited production within months.
Work in progress
We drove a prototype Aptera 2e last month, and called it "work in progress that's likely to get smoother, more powerful, and more refined before the first paying customer takes delivery."
The bill approved by the Senate yesterday increases spending only slightly over the current year's funds, it boosts spending on energy efficiency programs--which include solar energy and biofuels, as well as advanced vehicle technology--to $2.2 billion.
Previously, any vehicle with fewer than four wheels was considered under the Federal Motor Vehicle code to be a motorcycle. The new wording includes "any enclosed vehicle that seats at least 2 adults and gets at least 75 mpg" within the definition of a car.
All such vehicles must meet National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety standards, which require multiple airbags, specify various crash tests, and impose other requirements.
$25 billion in low-cost loans
Now Aptera can apply for some of the $25 billion in low-interest loans from the DoE's Advanced Technology Vehicle program, which has already granted $8 billion in loans to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla Motors, plus another $530 million to Fisker Automotive.
The loans must go toward establishing production facilities in the United States for advanced powertrains and/or vehicles, including two luxury sports sedans: the all-electric 2012 Tesla Model S and the plug-in hybrid 2010 Fisker Karma.
Significantly, loans cannot be granted to any company that would not be a viable concern without the money.
We suggested that one lens by which to assess those loans was to see how many went to electric-drive technologies. Nissan, Tesla, and Fisker will use their loans to fund design and production of plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles. Aptera hopes to join that select list as well.