The History of Aptera Motors: What to Know

Steve_Fambro_and_Chris_Anthony
Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony co-founded Aptera Motors in 2005.

Aptera Motors Corp. is an electric vehicle (EV) maker on a quest to build the most efficient all-electric passenger cars among current eco-friendly automakers. Its vehicle engineering blends aerodynamic design features borrowed from light aircraft with solar power to achieve efficiency and claimed ranges far exceeding competitors.

Aptera says its first passenger vehicle, a lightweight three-wheeler, offers a single-charge range of 1,000 miles. A solar panel array for continuous passive charging is another distinctive Aptera EV design element. The company says this feature adds up to 40 miles to the daily range. Aptera’s vehicle is technically a solar-electric vehicle or SEV rather than a standard battery-electric vehicle, or BEV. Nevertheless, it can also run off its battery.

Quick Facts

Year Founded
2005
Founders
Chris Anthony and Steve Fambro
Industry
EV
Headquarter
San Diego, California
Key People
Steve Fambro, Chris Anthony, Robert Kavner
Notable Products
Aptera Solar-Electric Vehicle
Website
https://aptera.us/

Aptera’s strikingly futuristic three-wheeled, streamlined design and claims of extreme EV energy efficiency set it apart from conventional EV makers. However, its history is somewhat checkered. The company first launched in 2005, but eventually closed down in 2011 after failing to secure timely funding from the Department of Energy. By that time, its original founders had been ousted from it.

Strongly rising consumer demand for EVs (late in the 21st century’s second decade) piqued the founders’ interest in reviving Aptera. Phoenix-like, the enterprise returned from the ashes in 2019, relaunched by a $2.8 million crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder. Institutional investment followed, giving the company the resources to resume development. Co-CEO Chris Anthony predicted the arrival of a gamma prototype vehicle from July to August 2022 during a June 2022 Aptera webinar. He also said delta (finalized vehicle) manufacture would start in 2023.

The Founding of Aptera Motors: How it Happened

Aptera’s origins date to 2006 when Steve Fambro got the idea for a solar-powered vehicle while working in California’s tech industry. A University of Utah graduate with an electrical engineering degree, Fambro worked as a robotics designer at Illumina from 2001 until 2006. Fambro said he and his Illumina colleagues “engineered ourselves out of a job” by making a DNA-synthesizing robot capable of permanently meeting the company’s needs, the North County Times reported.

Fambro decided to start his own company based on an idea of a lightweight, fuel-efficient vehicle legal to drive in the carpool lane. He originally thought of the concept while dealing with the traffic congestion and pollution of his California highway commute.

Once he left Illumina, Fambro began building a diesel-electric hybrid concept vehicle in his garage. He used this test vehicle as the basis to launch his company, originally called Accelerated Composites, using $100,000 in personal savings. The company’s co-founder, Chris Anthony, initially joined as Accelerated Composites’ chief operating officer or COO. Two venture capital firms gave the enterprise an initial $2 million in funding, enabling continued operation and development.

Aptera Motors Through The Decades

2006-2011: The First Attempt

Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony partnered to launch Accelerated Concepts in 2005. Initial funding came from Fambro’s own money. Venture capital soon came in the form of two million-dollar investments from relatively small firms. The Aptera began as a diesel-electric hybrid constructed in Fambro’s garage. The engineers soon switched the design to an all-electric one, while the company adopted the name of its flagship product, becoming Aptera Motors.

At the time, the Aptera EV’s promised 120-mile range marked it as one of the longest-ranged electric cars on the horizon. Two years after Fambro founded the company, the board of directors decided a government loan was needed. Fambro, who described his decision as “naive,” stepped aside as CEO. He said in an Alejandro Cremades interview the board “felt that we needed a ‘professional’ automotive team, some management team from Detroit with high-volume experience.” Paul Wilbur, the new CEO,

Later History and Liquidation

Disagreements over the direction of the company led to the ouster of its founders. Moving ahead with only Wilbur at the helm, Aptera began a complete revamp of its EV design. It also burned through much of its initial investment cash, while new investment was slow to appear. Finally, in December 2011, it went bankrupt and was liquidated. Its intellectual property was sold to a Chinese company, which never really made use of its acquisition.

Multiple factors likely contributed to the original Aptera’s failure. The company spent years trying to qualify for Department of Energy loans and failing to obtain them. During this time, it ran out of money, eventually leading to bankruptcy. The EV market was still in its infancy at the time, with very low demand for what then amounted to novelty vehicles. Electric vehicle technology was also at a much earlier stage, greatly increasing the difficulty of actually engineering Fambro’s bold concepts into reality.

2019-Present Day: Aptera Motors Reborn

Vibrant growth in the EV sector and a slew of promising technological advances persuaded Fambro and Anthony to revisit Aptera in 2019. An initial Wefunder crowdfunding campaign raised $2.8 million for the relaunch. Michael Johnson, an investor in the original Aptera launch, provided additional funding through his venture capital firm.

The company continues to secure private sector investment, including a major cash infusion from Impala Ventures early in 2022, which also saw an Impala executive seated on Aptera’s board. America’s premier “clean technology” or “cleantech” investment bank, Marathon Capital LLC, partnered publicly with Aptera in June 2022. The bank could supply up to $200 million in funding for the electric automaker.

Aptera’s Recent Developments

Fambro, Anthony, and their engineers have put modern EV technology and materials to strong use in creating an updated Aptera. The new vehicle is 20% more aerodynamic than its 2006 to 2011 version and has a lighter weight thanks to superior composites and resins. Better batteries enable a theoretical range of up to 1,000 miles. Built-in solar panels to regenerate up to 40 miles of range daily are completely new additions to the design.

Aptera is building a solid real-world supply chain to support its upcoming manufacturing push. It contracted to buy lightweight, energy-dense cylindrical lithium-ion batteries from EVE Energy Co. Ltd on June 27th, 2022. Another pact inked with Elaphe on June 20th, 2022 will see the Slovenian in-wheel powertrain manufacturer supplying Aptera with electric motors.

On the sales front, Aptera Motors surpassed 22,000 SEV reservations as of May 30th, 2022, Electrek reports. If production begins and all of the reservations result in vehicle purchases, the company will earn $800 million from these pre-orders. Aptera hopes to launch manufacturing in 2023. Its current goal is to make 10,000 of its three-wheeled SEVs by 2023’s end.

What are the Most Important Inventions from Aptera Motors?

Aerodynamics and Low Friction

The aerospace-inspired shape of the Aptera gives the vehicle superior aerodynamics compared to standard designs. Its 0.13 coefficient of drag is far lower than the 0.29 of a typical sedan. Additionally, the three-wheel design reduces rolling resistance by removing one point of contact (a fourth tire) from the ground. These factors help create the Aptera’s 1,000-mile maximum range and extreme energy efficiency.

Lightweight Monocoque Construction

Aptera builds its SEV from advanced composites. This greatly reduces the vehicle’s weight, dropping the Aptera’s mass to approximately 35% of an average standard passenger EV. Shedding this amount of weight also helps extend the Aptera’s range. The streamlined body is also a one-piece structure, or monocoque, frequently used in aircraft. The curved shape of the passenger cabin makes it stronger and safer than equivalent steel construction.

How Does/Did Aptera Motors Make Money?

Since Aptera Motors does not have SEVs in showrooms as of July 2022, its money comes from $100 reservations and venture capital. If the Aptera SEV is indeed launched, most of Aptera’s revenue will come from the sale of vehicles.

Aptera Motors Acquisitions

April 20, 2022: Andromeda Interfaces, Inc. – Unspecified Sum

Aptera acquired Andromeda Interfaces, Inc. in April 2022. The deal cost Aptera an unspecified amount and was paid for in an all-equity deal using stock rather than cash. Andromeda makes range mapping software for EVs. The software shows a visual depiction of how far the driver can go from his or her current location with the vehicle’s actual current battery charge. Aptera vehicles will be equipped with Andromeda’s Energy Tipster interface, enabling driving distance estimates at a glance.

Aptera’s Notable Controversies

September 2008-September 2009: Founders Ousted

Steve Fambro decided to step down as CEO of Aptera in September 2008, making way for Paul Wilbur. Jalopnik cited insiders who claimed Fambro objected to the new direction Wilbur almost immediately chose for the company. This unnamed personnel alleged Fambro confronted Wilbur and took his case directly to the board of directors in mid-September 2009. The board decided to back Wilbur, and both Fambro and Anthony soon left Aptera.

The leadership shakeup during Aptera’s early days echoes the executive history of its rival Tesla, Inc. In the case of Tesla, Elon Musk went from major shareholder to CEO, displacing the engineer founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard. However, unlike Tesla, the original Aptera ultimately did not survive under the new leadership.

December 2, 2011: Aptera’s Bankruptcy

“Bright shiny object disease” caused the first Aptera Motors company failure, CEO Paul Wilbur told a Green Car Reports interviewer. By this, he meant the company spent excessive time and effort pursuing Department of Energy loans. Under Wilbur’s guidance, the company sought Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loans from the DoE in December 2008. The Department turned its application down within days because the three-wheeler failed to technically qualify as a car.

Wilbur claims Aptera tried again for an ATVM loan in early 2010 after Tesla and Fisker each received hundreds of millions in government aid. The company re-applied with a four-wheel Aptera variant. Once more, the DoE refused the application, this time based on its own projected Aptera sales figures.

A third ATVM loan attempt in late 2011 nearly succeeded, with the DoE offering a $150 million loan if Aptera secured $80 million in private sector investments. Aptera sought private investment, but following a recent DoE loan refusal to startup Next Autoworks, no venture capital firms offered Aptera money. With both private and public backing unavailable, Aptera was forced to liquidate on December 2nd.

Aptera Motors: Guide to the Solar Electric Vehicle Manufacturer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When was Aptera Motors founded?

Aptera Motors was founded in 2005. After its 2011 bankruptcy and liquidation Aptera was eventually re-founded in 2019.

Who founded Aptera Motors?

Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony co-founded Aptera Motors.

What is Aptera Motors known for?

Aptera Motors is known for its solar-electric Aptera passenger vehicle, with a claimed maximum range of 1,000 miles per charge in its premium configuration. Its SEV achieves this range using multiple technologies and engineering features.

These include a streamlined main body design resembling and based closely on a light aircraft fuselage. The design provides a 0.13 coefficient of drag (Cd), far more streamlined than the Toyota Corolla’s 0.29 Cd or the Tesla Model 3’s 0.26 Cd. Its three-wheel design reduces rolling resistance. Composite construction materials slash its weight by 65% compared to other EVs, helping boost its efficiency and range. 

Who is Aptera Motors owned by?

Michael Johnson Properties, Ltd. holds 28.97% of Aptera Motors’ stock according to the company’s 2021 annual report. This makes the Corpus Christi, Texas based corporation the biggest single stockholder in the privately-held Aptera. Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony each own a 28.5% stake, or 57% combined.

How long has Aptera Motors been in business?

Aptera Motors has been in business for 3 years.

How much does an Aptera solar car cost?

Aptera has currently set a base price of $25,900 MSRP for the Aptera SEV. The company equips this base model with a battery holding a 250 mile charge. Additional options such as upgrading from front wheel drive (FWD) 100 kW motors to all-wheel drive (AWD) 150 kW motors add to the cost. The Aptera also has a pricing scale based on the size and range of the battery:

  • 250 miles, $25,900
  • 400 miles, $29,800
  • 600 miles, $34,600
  • 1,000 miles, $44,900

All prices are preliminary and subject to change. The company charges $100 to reserve an Aptera vehicle.

Keeping prices relatively affordable is an Aptera goal. Steve Fambro says a major company objective is providing “a mainstream path to make electric vehicles there for everyone.”

How much solar is in an Aptera?

Aptera SEVs feature solar panels on the roof, hood, dashboard, and other upper surfaces. The solar regeneration can provide a maximum 40 miles of range in the sunniest climates under ideal conditions.

Where is Aptera manufactured?

Aptera’s first factory will be a 77,000 square foot facility in Carlsbad, California. The company plans a series of other “micro-factories” close to regional markets.

How often do you have to charge Aptera cars?

Aptera cars will feature battery packs able to provide a range of between 250 miles and 1,000 miles, depending on option. However, for drivers who drive 40 miles or less per day, the Aptera’s solar panels may generate enough power to remove the need for charging. Solar power generation lengthens the time between charges even in less sunny regions.

What cars does Aptera Motors manufacture?

As of summer 2022, Aptera Motors has only one car publicly known to be in development, also called the Aptera. The company says its future designs include “mainstream autonomous capable 6-passenger cars, 2-seat commuters, and utility vehicles up to 18-wheelers” after the initial two-passenger SEV release.

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