A three-wheeled, tear-drop-shaped car that averages an impressive 330 mpg and has a sticker price of $25,000 sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. However, in 2006, Aptera Motors, Inc. created just that. The innovative electric vehicle was unveiled at a TED conference and was immediately met with investments from excited funders and deposits from intrigued Californians, allowing Aptera to initially move forward.
In December 2008 Aptera applied for an Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan, funded by the Department of Energy. The loan was created to aid automakers in producing high-mileage vehicles to meet CAFE standards while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Surely, any company working to create a reasonably-priced vehicle that runs on replacement fuels (electricity, methanol, ethanol or natural gas) would be the perfect candidate for this loan. However, the application was promptly denied, because the DoE didn’t classify a three-wheeled vehicle as a car.
Shortly after the loan rejection, a successful lobbying effort changed the wording on the ATVM loan program to include three-wheeled cars, prompting Aptera to resubmit an application. However, after three applications and two denials, the company ran out of time and money. In December 2011, Aptera announced it was closing its doors due to lack of funding.
The real reason for Aptera’s failure in procuring loans is hazy; less than one year after the initial rejection, both Tesla and Fisker were awarded ATVM loans in the amounts of $465 million and $529 million, respectively. While both companies are using the funds to develop electric or hybrid vehicles, their cars only meet 89 mpg at $50,000 (Tesla) or 52 mpg at a staggering $102,000 (Fisker). Although Aptera’s vehicle, the 2e, fell short of its projected 330 mpg, the achievement of 206 mpg would have made it the most fuel-efficient vehicle available on the market, at a price Americans could afford.
Since the ATVM loan was established to diminish our dependence on foreign oil, shouldn’t the funds be granted to automakers that plan to develop cars that are not only fuel-efficient, but are also reasonably priced? The difficulty Aptera experienced in being approved for loans from the DoE highlights the need for a clearer program that rewards all forms of innovation (even a futuristic, three-wheeled vehicle) to help move America forward.
Unless we start to actively think outside the pump, we will be left behind as other countries power ahead. Just last May, a Chinese investor purchased Aptera’s assets with plans to make the 2e available in the U.S. by early 2013. While the innovative car has gained a second chance, we can’t continue to depend on another country, such as China, to guide us. We need to allow American innovation to flourish so we can break our addiction to expensive foreign oil.