A great many people were disappointed--though perhaps not surprised--when green automaker Aptera closed its doors in late 2011.
Its project, the Aptera 2e, promised to be one of the most efficient vehicles on the road, but the company suffered the usual startup automaker pitfalls and disappeared with a bang.
We were skeptical when a Chinese automaker then took up the reins, but that same company still promises the Aptera will return--maybe even as a straight-up gasoline-engined vehicle.
Entity number one is known as Zaptera USA, majority owned by China's Jonway Group. Entity number two, which has surprisingly little to do with Zaptera USA other than an almost-identical name and an almost-identical vehicle, is Aptera USA.
Aptera USA's main difference on paper is that it will operate independently from the Jonway-owned Zaptera.
Heading up Aptera is Richard Deringer, previously CEO of Zaptera (still following this?), who told Gizmag "We have nothing to do with Zap Jonway".
Understandably so, since another of Jonway's concerns, Zap Jonway, is largely known for its hilarious and hilariously bad Xebra electric three-wheeled vehicles.
"We wish them well in trying to survive, but we don’t want any association with them", added Deringer.
Aptera or Zaptera?
So what is each company going to produce? Essentially, an Aptera 2e, albeit one with fundamental differences.
Chinese-owned Zaptera will make the 2e in more or less its previous incarnation. The cars will be built in China, for China, as all-electric, mass-produced vehicles.
American-owned Aptera will have its own take on the 2e, known as the 2g. Unlike the Zaptera (or indeed the 2e), the Aptera 2g will use a standard combustion engine. It'll also be handmade in California, presumably in smaller numbers, and priced at a higher level reflecting its more exclusive status.
Deringer estimates pricing at around $50,000-$55,000, which would put it $15,000-$20,000 more than he estimates the Chinese version would sell for.
If this has you confused, you aren't alone. Regular gasoline vehicles costing a third more than their electric equivalent aren't common, though 100 mpg economy is a possibility, and Deringer believes U.S. buyers will want what his version has to offer.
Crafted by hand
The concept that comes to mind is that of guitars.
A USA-built Fender Stratocaster and a Chinese-built Squier Strat are essentially the same product, but if your budget allows you'd always pay more for the hand-built, higher-quality product.
There's also no guarantee the Chinese Zaptera will actually be sold in the U.S. There's little guarantee the U.S-made Aptera will either--it's still a startup automaker, after all--but Aptera at least has U.S. plans, while Zaptera does not.
Aptera also has many of the original company's prototypes, equipment, patents and designs, so it won't be starting entirely from scratch.
The question is, is there a market for a fifty-grand, three-wheeled, hand-built economy car?
We'd like to think so, but just as we said last year: We'll believe it when we see it...