Will video and time kill the Aptera star? Will Detroit? Or will the Auto X-Prize pull the final punch?

As the field has been whittled down from 136 to just 9 contenders for the chance to win part of the elusive $10 million prize fund, we've watched electric vehicles dominate the event.

For one eager and dare we say it, impetuous, zesty Californian startup the Auto X-Prize has been a roller-coaster of handling issues, elimination near-misses and technical faults.

Fighting furiously throughout the competition Aptera, whose three-wheeled Aptera 2e is due to go on sale by 2013, has proven that it is capable satisfying the tough criteria of the Auto X-Prize.

Even as Aptera gained a valuable place in the final validation stage of the competition where fuel economy and emissions are measured at Argonne National Laboratory, another crisis hit the team.

The 2e failed to complete the race marking the end of the elimination rounds, withdrawing with technical problems 18 laps before the end of the 50-lap race.

Aptera 2e, photo by Jason H. Harper

Aptera 2e, photo by Jason H. Harper

Founded in 2006, Aptera has almost used the Auto X-Prize as a form of extended road-testing as part of its drive to produce a production intent vehicle in the near future.  Tweaks have been made and, according to Aptera, the vehicle now finishing the X-Prize is a much more refined example of the one which started the event.

The now infamous poor handling antics which lead to the 2e's door flying open during the high-speed manoeuvring tests mid-competition have led to some hasty re-designs, but doing so in the public eye has been a risky endeavor.

Dealing with the frustration of engineering faults, poor design and the pressure of field testing a vehicle in the public eye isn't Aptera's biggest problem though. Nor is rebuilding public confidence after some pretty astonishing setbacks in the X-Prize.

It's time. Or rather, the passing of time.

When Aptera first started to work on its futuristic vehicle back in 2006, the world was a different place. Very few automakers were interested in producing an electric car and chose to focus on hybrid and fuel cell technology instead.

Aptera was one of a small number of exciting startup companies offering something detroit didn't: clean, green, exciting and unique motoring without needing to use a drop of oil.

As a consequence, Aptera was placed upon a pedestal and even made it into a Wired Magazine feature. A union of aerodynamic design and technology, early prototypes included a three-screen rear-view camera system which completely did away with any conventional rear-view external mirrors.

Aptera's founder Steve Fambro, planned to launch his Aptera Typ-1 by the end of 2006 at a price of between $26,000 and $29,000.
In a world without the 2011 Nissan Leaf or 2011 Chevy Volt or in a world when Tesla was not yet selling its all-electric Roadster, many eager for the joy of electric motoring would have stumped up the cash for an Aptera.

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

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

Unfortunately, that world is no-more.

Board-level politics and accusations of mismanagement which culminated in Fambro leaving just a year after he had hired Paul Wilbur as Aptera's CEO didn't help Aptera make its own deadlines.

Four years later, customers are still waiting for a production schedule and final price. Many have grown tired of the wait and are now looking elsewhere for an electric car.

Aptera's only hope now is winning some of the Auto X-Prize fund. And enabling a speedy drive to market at a price well under the competition.

But with the 2011 Nissan Leaf, 2011 Chevy Volt and 2011 Mitsubishi i-Miev on the horizon, complete with impressive specifications, full warranties and competitive pricing, Aptera faces hurdles as significant as any in its lifetime.