Aptera 2e development prototype at company offices in Vista, California
Optimism is a useful thing for a startup company, maybe even a requirement.
But the April newsletter from Aptera Motors, which is struggling to launch its ultra-aerodynamic three-wheeled electric vehicle in the face of delays and funding constraints, smooths over some crucial handling issues with blind optimism.
On the face of it the Californian company seems chipper, with first deliveries of the 2e electric car by 2011.
Company CEO Paul Wilbur's statement at an April 14 press conference that Aptera was "on the road to financial stability" is reiterated in the newsletter, along with the fact that Aptera is still waiting to hear if it will be granted a five-year loan of $184 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.
As is his job, Wilbur paints a positive picture: Once funding is completed, he says, it will take 11 months for the 2e to reach full-scale production.
But then the newsletter gingerly addresses an equally big challenge: major concerns over the 2e's handling revealed during track tests for the $10 million Automotive X-Prize.
While the Aptera team remains in the competition, unlike dozens of teams that didn't qualify for various reasons, the 2e struggled to complete maneuvers required of all participants.
As Consumer Reports reported last week, the Aptera 2e struggled with a simple lane change test. The goal was to change lanes on a straight road, at a minimum speed of 45 mph, without using throttle or brakes to control the vehicle.
And it took more than 40 attempts before the 2e achieved the required standard, says Consumer Reports.
It managed to knock over several bollards in the process--and, as the video below shows at about 1:05, had a door fly open in the process on at least one run.
Aptera's account of the X-Prize handling test is a little less scary:
The team was off to the next event: the double-lane change maneuver, which was not as much of a cakewalk. Without the benefit of prior ride development, the 2e repeatedly passed through the course, but 1 to 1.5 mph below the required speed. The challenge was particularly frustrating because the double-lane-change is a standard part of Aptera's development plan, but the team simply hasn't had the opportunity to tune the vehicle yet.
Any vehicle that struggles to change lanes at 45 mph without the driver having to resort to brakes or accelerator is hardly ready for primetime.
And publicly demonstrating a poorly handling vehicle in such a highly public venue could be viewed as tantamount to corporate suicide. Add to this the lack of federal funding and the future for Aptera starts to look bleak.
Fans who months earlier stood up for the company in person and on forums are slowly turning their attention elsewhere. And potential buyers may need to think long and hard before handing over the cash if and when the 2e makes it to production.
Given the optimistic timescale for production--which essentially requires immediate completion of any federal loan deal--it now seems more likely the Aptera 2e won't be on the road until at least 2012.