Would-be American electric and extended-range electric vehicle manufacturer, Aptera, ended the week saying it has ceased operations and will liquidate after failing to raise sufficient capital.

Company CEO Paul Wilbur said Aptera had gotten so far as to receive conditional approval for a U.S. Energy Department loan for $150 million, but additional attempts to gain more fell through.

Wilbur, a former Chrysler brand manager and CEO of ASC Inc., said plans wavered for its first vehicle, a mid-sized electric sedan, because in his view the EV investment market is wavering.


"A couple years ago, there were a lot of people who thought the automotive industry is easy," Wilbur said. "It isn't."

Wilbur said venture capital firms had initially led Aptera to believe they’d be willing to ante up funds if the federal government did first.

Although the government did what they asked, investors balked when it became apparent launching EVs can be more difficult than first anticipated, he said.

An American company

Like Fisker and Tesla, Aptera had positioned itself in California and aimed to build in the states – and the company intended to source 90 percent from domestic suppliers.

The Carlsbad-based startup was also discussing an agreement with GM that would allow it to use a former GM assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, Wilbur said.

The first model – the aerodynamic and lightweight electric sedan – was to have an all-composite body, deliver 130 miles range, return as high as 190 miles per gallon equivalent, and its airplane-without-wings look definitely caught people's attention.


An Aptera model had been a finalist in the competition for the Progressive Insurance X-Prize , and the company had attracted a fair amount of press, including a 2007 feature by Popular Mechanics.

The company had initially hoped to have vehicles in production in 2009, but those dreams were tempered by delays. Even back then HybridCars.com noted Wilbur's earlier takeover after ousting company founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony over disputes about the company's direction, and observed Aptera's future looked rocky indeed.

According to the company’s far more bright-sounding marketing copy on its Web site , other vehicles to follow, would cost from the high-$20,000s to mid-$40,000s.

Planned powertrain options included extended-range electric and the company said it was pleased to design, engineer and manufacture in the U.S.A.

“Aptera embraces this American spirit through our Efficient Vehicle Design Formula,” Aptera wrote on its Web site. “It brings the practical notion of low energy consumption inline with the passion to drive and the freedom to go when and where we want. The result is a full complement of ultra-efficient passenger vehicles.”

Aptera had about 30 employees, and Wilbur said they have been let go. On the company’s Web site home page is a note thanking suppliers and supporters of the company’s efforts over the past five years.

This video is from December 2007. The fundamentals of the design were strong, but backing wasn't.


Following is a letter from Paul Wilbur:

Dec. 2, 2011

After years of focused effort to bring our products to the market, Aptera Motors is closing its doors, effective today. This is a difficult time for everyone connected with our company because we have never been closer to realizing our vision. Unfortunately, though, we are out of resources.

It is especially disappointing since we were so close…

Aptera executives had been engaged in exhaustive due diligence with the Department of Energy (DOE) pertaining to an ATVM (Advance Technology Vehicle Manufacturing) loan. Our business plan was examined from top to bottom by internal agency representatives, independent consultants and experts in academia. They did an amazing job of vetting us and they tested every possible weakness in our plan. And after nearly two years of discussions, we had recently received a Conditional Commitment Letter for a $150 million loan.

The ATVM loan would have provided funding for the development and commercialization of a five-passenger, midsized sedan (similar to a Toyota Camry) that would be base priced at less than $30,000 and deliver more than a 190 mile per gallon equivalent. The concept of this vehicle had been in place since the very beginning of Aptera, and we had been wholly focused on its development for the last year. The last remaining hurdle was finding new funds to match the DOE loan.

We were so optimistic that the company would move forward that we were in discussions to reactivate a mothballed automotive plant in Moraine, Ohio. In the past months we had engaged with the labor union that operated that facility to discuss the hiring of 1,400 new job opportunities. These jobs would have reactivated talented workers who had been dismissed when the facility was closed.

During the same time, we continued development of our patent-pending composite manufacturing system that enables energy efficient vehicle production by drastically reducing vehicle weight (by as much as 30%) while tripling its strength. This same patent pending system allowed us to finish the surface of our composites without manual finishing and without the high capital cost of a typical automotive paint shop. In all, the process would save nearly $750-million versus a typical volume auto assembly plant start-up.

We were well on the way to satisfying the vision of efficiency on which the company was founded and we are confident that with time and capital we could still achieve our goal. The Aptera formula: aerodynamics plus light weight design (through composites) delivered efficiency of 206 EPA miles per gallon in tests at Argonne National Labs. That wasn't a simulation; it was real measured performance. Despite that promise of efficiency, this challenged market – specifically large private investors – did not have an appetite to lead an investment for the perceived low volume return of our three-wheeled vehicle. So we reprioritized our product plan to four-door sedans, which also cost us time.

We remain confident, even as this chapter closes, that Aptera has contributed tech new technologies to build a future for more efficient driving. Through the dedicated staff at Aptera, our board and suppliers we have touched this future. All that remains is for someone to grab it. We still believe it will happen.

Paul Wilbur

President and CEO

Aptera Motors

Source: Automotive News


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