Electric vehicles are becoming more common to see on the street from Tesla to the Nissan LEAF. And as time goes on, more players are attempting to enter the market.
Aptera Motors is one of those companies -- designing a new kind of electric vehicle.
“We’re the only one in the U.S. that’s making a solar electric vehicle,” Steve Fambro, the Co-founder and co-CEO of Aptera Motors, said.
At first glance, their vehicle doesn’t look like anything else you may see driving down the road. It’s built for efficiency.
“Electrification gives us a means to have more control over our energy. Solar electric vehicles give us the maximum control over that energy usage by generating it at the vehicle,” Fambro explained.
The three-wheel car with two seats is built with weight and aerodynamics in mind. Solar panels cover the top of the car, and it’s made out of composite elements and not steel.
“Steel, again, is what most companies use but composites are much stronger than steel per unit weight. So we're able to make a vehicle that's still strong and safe,” he said. “They’re also used in things like Formula 1, used in aircraft, spacecraft.”
Less weight means fewer batteries needed to power it.
“There's just some physical limitation of the amount of batteries they can put on a passenger vehicle,” Fambro said. The heavier the car, the more batteries it needs.
“I think it's really just the overall idea and the ethos of this car of doing the most you can with the least possible. And from an engineering point of view just overall efficiency, you can't beat that. So many things improve when you are able to make a really lightweight car,” Daniel Morris, a vehicle integration engineer at Aptera Motors, said.
Nearly 1.8 million electric vehicles, also called EVs, were registered in the U.S. as of 2020. This was three times more than in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency.
“Overall it’s still roughly about two percent of total vehicle sales in the entire U.S., ” Dr. Jae Kim, an associate professor at the University of San Diego and renewable energy expert, said.
Dr. Kim says EVs were introduced years ago, but Tesla made the EV market what it is today. Now, a lot of companies are looking to advance in this sector.
“It's a very saturated market,” Dr. Kim said. He says many of the big car companies have the ability to mass produce, so movin into the electric space might be easier for them than a company starting from scratch.
“It ultimately comes down to value and economics,” he said.
At Aptera, their design is focused on just that -- accessibility and value. The car runs from $24,000 and up and can drive up to 1,000 miles on battery, with an additional 40 miles from solar power. For comparison, the 2021 Tesla Model 3 has a 263 to 353 mile battery range and costs $39,990 and up, and the 2021 Nissan LEAF can drive 150 to 226 miles on battery with a cost of $31,670 and up.
“We use far less of the most expensive part -- the batteries,” Fambro said.
“In terms of actual EV technology, I think the bottleneck is in terms of efficiency. It's going to be the type of batteries I think. The lithium ion battery is only going to take us so far,” Dr. Kim said.
“If you want to drive volume of sales I think it's primarily range so that's what we’re using our efficiency and technology to optimize,” Fambro said.
Aptera will put their vehicles through safety testing before they begin full production for the over 10,000 preorders they’ve already received.
“Our goal is to make this vehicle as safe as any regular passenger vehicle,” he said.
Fambro said they plan on having a production ready vehicle by the end of the year. In the future, they’ll look at applying their tech to more mainstream passenger vehicles.
“I think EVs are really the next step. And we are living through probably the most exciting time. We haven't seen something like this. When we went from riding horses to cars that was hundreds of years ago. Now, we’re going from a gas dominated society to an EV dominated society which is a huge transition,” Dr. Kim said.