400 MPG… Or Conspiracy Theory?

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Maybe the conspiracy theorists were right after all. 

That was the first thought to pop into my head as I read about an engineer named Steve Fambro – and his 400 mpg hybrid Aptera two-seater. Yes, you read that right. 400 MPG.

Really.

The mileage of the snarky little gullwing coupe is about five times better  than the mileage posted by the best hybrid a major automaker has ever delivered – the 70 mpg Honda Insight (mark I, the small two-seater built back in the early 2000s, not the current model)  and makes a new Toyota Prius look like a ’69 Chrysler Newport with two dead cylinders, a slipping transmission and a trunk full of bricks.

Fill-ups could be a once-a-month deal. Your gas bill by cut by two-thirds. For all practical purposes, we’d back to the days when fuel cost less than a buck per gallon since we’d need to buy it so infrequently. OPEC’s meaty fingers would no longer be crushing our windpipes. What goes on in Iraq, Libya and Iran would matter a lot less than it does right now.

Is there a catch?

Surely it’s pathetically weak . . . barely able to gimp along at Jimmah Carter-esque speeds? Or it’s got no legs. Maybe 70 miles before it croaks by the side of the road until you recharge its feeble batteries for a couple of hours, like GM’s pitiful EV-1 electric car?

No? Well, then it must cost a fortune. Like the sexy  (but six-figure) Tesla electric car?

There must be… something.

Actually, no. The Aptera (see for yourself at http://www.aptera.com/) isn’t slow. Zero to sixty takes about 10 seconds (quicker than a 2012 Prius). It’ll do 100 mph – more than sufficient for American highways and stop and go commuting in urban/suburban areas. Nor does it need an electric umbilical cord to make it farther than 30 miles or so, one way. It’s not preposterously expensive, either. About $30,000 retail – without subsidy – so roughly the same price as a loaded Prius and within the range of most ordinary people – unlike the absurd six figure Tesla electric car or the $44k (and comfortably subsidized) Chevy Volt.

Like other hybrids, the Aptera’s tandem gas-electric powertrain is a closed system that recharges (and boosts) itself, no need to feed it current. It can, however, be plugged in to a household 110 volt outlet – and is capable of running on pure electric power alone for as much as 60 miles, which beats the snot out of the Prius – which can only go for a couple of miles, at most, on just its batteries alone.

And if you’re just burning gas? How’s 100 MPG grab you? That’s the worst-case scenario. Twice the best-case real-word mileage of a new Prius.

As they say in Russia: How is possible?

One huge difference between the Aptera and other hybrids is weight. There is much less of it. By using nothing but high-strength, ultra-light-weight composites for the shell, the Aptera weighs 1,400 pounds – just a few hundred pounds more than a fully dressed Honda Goldwing motorcycle and  less than half the weight of the 3,042 pound Prius. This allows the Aptera to achieve comparable acceleration and top-speed capability – but with a far smaller, far more fuel-efficient single-cylinder internal combustion engine that requires only a fraction of the fuel consumed by the 1.8 liter four-cylinder gas engine that propels the Prius when it’s not operating on its batteries/electric motors.

Orders of magnitude less, in fact.

The ’12 Prius rates 51 city, 48 highway – which is certainly good compared with what else is available right now. But it sucks when you compare it with an Aptera.

In addition to being about half as heavy as a new Prius, the Aptera also relies on superior aerodynamics achieved via its low-slung teardrop shape. The difference in CD (coefficient of drag, the measure of a vehicle’s “slipperyness” at speed) is also startling – 0.11 for the Aptera vs. 0.26 for the Toyota.

Well, all right. It goes a long way on not much fuel. But surely the Aptera’s a deathtrap? Nope. An F1-style safety cage and advances such as airbags-in-the-seatbelts provide occupant protection that exceeds current DOT/NHTSA standards.

Ok, so this has to be a pie-in-the-sky prototype. Right? Nope again. The Aptera is a fully developed, fully operational vehicle that’s about to go into serial production. Aptera has even complied with all the necessary rigmarole to qualify as a vehicle manufacture with both the federal Department of Transportation and the California state DMV. It can issue VINs and sell cars just like Ford or GM – though at at first, the Aptera will only be sold in California.

The Aptera’s not another an incremental improvement – it’s a revelation. And it’s so superior to anything either offered or even contemplated by any major automaker (that includes the much-hyped GM Volt) it’s hard not to be suspicious.

Why couldn’t GM – or Toyota – build something like this? The closest was the old (and now deceased) Honda Insight – which like the Aptera was also a two-seater but which unlike the Aptera delivered only 70 mpg. Good, yes – but not sufficient to mitigate against the practical limitations of the two-seater layout. Honda cancelled the Insight because it didn’t sell. People – reasonably – weighed the 70 mpg capability against the limited usefulness of such a small car that was mainly serviceable only as a commuter. But when you up the MPG ante by four-fold to 400 per gallon (100, worst-case) that changes the equation. Especially as gas prices today are much higher than they were during the Insight era (it got canned before the price of unleaded regular shot to $3 and more per gallon) and apt to stay there – or go even higher.

Count me among the conspiracy mongers. If the Aptera’s not a complete fraud, then something’s fishy. If a lone engineer and a small start-up company can build something like this – something even close to this – then it’s hard to to believe that a major automaker with literally billions in R&D facilities and teams of engineers could not do at least as well. And should have been able to do it at least as well years ago.

Something stinks here. Trust no one.

Meanwhile, check this car out. It shows what could be done.

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eric

Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia. 

  38 comments for “400 MPG… Or Conspiracy Theory?

  1. Fritz
    September 18, 2011 at 12:43 am

    I’ve been waiting for this car since it was first announced. I imagine it’s facing a good deal of opposition from the cronies. As you insinuate, they can build something similar, and quite easily. They don’t want the escalation. Real competition means having to go back to work after 6 decades of welfare.

    Take the news of the new Jetta hybrid! Finally a diesel hybrid, right? Nope, and they have no intention of competing with the prius. It’s getting Civic numbers.

  2. BrentP
    September 18, 2011 at 2:37 am

    The cost must be some kind of very optimistic idea of what it will cost after reaching mass production. It can’t be that cheap -and- be what they say it is. The materials and manufacturing processes of the vehicle’s body and structure prohibit it. Not that it might not be possible eventually, if someone starts making thousands and thousands of vehicles this way and people spend a lot of time improving the manufacturing processes. But right now, it’s not there. The closest things they could use would be aircraft manufacturing techniques. Which aren’t exactly cheap.

    Their website is very slight on construction details. Which doesn’t surprise me. But there’s quite a bit on the aerodynamic shape and how this is some ‘new’ thing… hardly. It was done in the 1930s. Scarab and other streamliners.

    Oh… one more thing. Gasoline is very cheap right now in the dollar as it was defined before LBJ, as a weight of silver. About 15 cents a gallon.

    • September 18, 2011 at 9:49 am

      Agree – but the one thing I will cheer is the weight reduction. The current Prius weighs 80 percent as much as my V-8 (huge V-8) RWD ’76 Trans-Am, which is outrageous (as well as silly in terms of the whole “economy”) thing. If people want high-efficiency/mileage cars, the weight has got to come down.

      A lot.

      A 1,600 pound standard (non-hybrid) would probably be able to easily return 60 MPG.

      A hybrid around that weight – if you even needed to go hybrid – would likely be able to double that.

      Nix 1,000-1,500 pounds and all of a sudden you can run on batteries a lot longer – and go faster on just the electric motor(s), too. The current Prius can barely hit 30 MPH on its batteries – and only if you are extremely gentle on the throttle and the road is essentially flat. Any hill at all, any real pressure on the throttle, and the gas engine cuts on. It has to, in order to lug 3,000-plus pounds of deadweight (closer to 3,400 with two average-sized people in it).

      • Gil
        September 19, 2011 at 5:22 am

        What happened the complaint that the less massive vehicle always loses in the event of a collision? Hence when there’s a government proposal that would lead to cars being lighter that Conservatives/Libertarians coplain that the government wants more people killed on the streets?

        • September 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

          Clover, we’re on to you. You’re a troll who only comes here to try to get a reaction out of people (or to misdirect a line of inquiry with endless non sequiturs). You never reply to counter-arguments; you either start up a new argument or re-serve the same old hash you’ve served up before. It’s tiring – and adds nothing to the conversation on this blog.

        • February 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

          Easily addressed on limited-access highways – separate car and truck lanes, as found on the northern third (soon to be half) of the New Jersey Turnpike. Not a cheap solution, but due to the NJTPK’s quasi- public, subsidized-pay funding, a clue at least as to how a privately-run highway system would solve the problem. NEXT!

  3. Boothe
    September 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I agree that the numbers look optimistic, but they’re not outside the realm of possibility given the weight and shape. Insofar as the price goes, I agree with Brent, it’s probably achievable after mass production numbers are reached and if it’s built in a non-union shop. Yes, aircraft manufacturing techniques could easily be used and if you didn’t have the UAW and managament bleeding the company from every pore or have to meet FAA requirements costs would come down even more.

    I’ve seen the cross application of airframe construction methods used on (military) mobile hospital units, comm shacks and truck bodies. Given incentives to cut costs and improve productivity (like a rotten economy and the actual unemployment rate of >17% in the US), I could see a start up manufacturer bringing in skilled labor to build this car for a reasonable price. Look how the UAW screamed bloody murder over some of the Japanese manufacturers using non-union labor in Southern right-to-work states; it’s called market competition and the big three don’t like it. But sooner or later they will have to face it. Even the government and the huge corporations that own it can’t stop the market altogether try as they might. Times change; seen any buggy whip factories lately? Go Aptera!

  4. mithrandir
    September 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I have looked at different high mpg cars over the years. I hope this succeeds. Hopefully it will inspire (encourage) other manufacturers to build quality vehicles that can deliver similar mpg results.

    I would be interested to hear about insurance costs and repair costs (if needed). For now it is a wait and see approach, but I am hopeful of better things to arrive in the future.

    I agree regarding vehicle weight.

    The price of ~$30,000 is not bad if the mpg is about 300-400 mpg.
    Granted the vehicle is only a 2-seat vehicle, but for some people this may be enough.

  5. RebelKnightCSA
    September 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I think I found the downside to the Aptera.

    That…thing…looks like arse. It resembles an insect, not an actual car. Also, what is with the steering wheel? Is that supposed to be a dashboard? The more I look at this, the more I want to grab a can of Raid and a flyswatter.

    • Boothe
      September 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      Actually, I was thinking it looked more like a streamlined Cessna with no wings, but okay, I can see some insect influence (I hear they get pretty good fuel economy too). But I have to agree with you on the dashboard. Besides which, anything this aircraft-ish should have a HUD not a dash, right?

    • September 18, 2011 at 11:13 pm

      I dunno… I kind of dig it!

      Now, the SmartCar.. that’s just wrong.

      • Boothe
        September 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm

        I can’t help but think of Steve Martin in The Pink Panther every time I see a Smart Car, which makes it impossible to take them seriously. I saw the specs on them one time and was really shocked at how poor the fuel economy is for a car that size. But the smart car certainly isn’t the first weird mini.

        When I was a about 5, my parents had a BMW Isetta (one door coupe). I guess the engine was shot, so my dad put a 4 cycle lawnmower motor in it (12 HP Kohler sticks in my mind). Apparently it got phenomenal fuel economy, but I can’t imagine it performed very well. It sat in the shed for years after he retired it and I still remember playing in it as a kid. I’d kinda’ like to have one just for nostalgia, but I’m perfectly happy with the Miata for now. But as soon as I can find an Aptera on the used market cheap…….

        • September 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

          I saw an Isetta for sale in the current Hemmings Motor News for (hold your breath) $20,000!

          The SmartCar is inexplicable to me. Poor mileage; not enough power to handle the highway and zero storage…. for $14k!

          My $1,400 Honda Silverwing Interstate gets twice the mileage (60 MPG), can carry more – and can easily handle highway speeds. The only thing the SmartCar offers that mine doesn’t (other than a high price tag) is an enclosed cabin.

          If you need that – or need to carry more than two people – why not get a Nissan Versa ($10k) or buy a slightly used (insert model here) economy car for well under $10k?

          I just don’t get it…

          • dom
            September 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm

            The next company that does just this “an enclosed cabin” and makes it affordable, able to sale in America, and economical is going to be rich off their asses. They have scooters like this in Japan, but they can’t sustain highway speed.

          • September 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm

            Yeah! Start with an older Goldwing chassis. Enclose it. Add side wheels for stability (and so that non-motorcycle people can deal with it) and maybe a CVT transmission (no clutch) and, viola!

          • Boothe
            September 20, 2011 at 12:30 am

            I remember an article from back in the 70’s in Popular Science (or maybe PM?) for a DIY “car” based on a Kawasaki 650 drive set-up and a home brew fiberglass shell. It had two wheels up front and an aircraft-ish hull. It seems like they were talking 60 MPG+. This would have been about the time that gas jumped up from 48 cents to 75 cents a gallon! I always thought that would be a novel and unique way to travel; no heat or A/C, but at least your hands wouldn’t freeze to the handlebars in January. What would you do about reverse though?

          • September 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

            Newer Goldwings have that problem solved already!

      • dom
        September 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm

        I think the Smart Car would be cool if the price and warranty were right. The last time I checked the price might have been in the teens, the warranty around 30k, and the mileage laughable. They should cut the price to around 6k and cut warranty in half to feel better about it.

    • mithrandir
      September 19, 2011 at 12:14 am

      Different looks for different folks. This car makes me think of the Jetsons.

      I would be willing to take it for a test drive. I am interested in how easy it is to work on for the average DIY person. I like to be able to do as much work as I possibly can do on my own.

      For now it is a moot point, since I live on the East coast.

  6. ken
    September 19, 2011 at 2:05 am

    You guys keep using the word “car”…

    3 wheels != car.

    • Fritz
      September 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Lolwut?!?! The very first car had 3 wheels.

      • krb
        September 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm

        Google it. Since it is enclosed and has ‘normal’ controls you don’t need a motorcycle license or a helmet, but 3 wheels makes it a motorcycle. It will be interesting to see how State Farm (et.al.) handles this.

  7. Gil
    September 19, 2011 at 5:24 am

    I thought of the Jetsons too.

  8. JvG
    September 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    There have been other three wheeled cars. Britain has the Reliant Robin, and its four wheeled cousin, the Reliant Kitten.

    The Robin had one wheel in front, and could roll over if cornered to quickly.

    A three wheeled car will have issues on snowy roads. While two wheels will fit in the ruts made by the other cars, the third wheel will bump along or drag on the ice and snow in the middle.

    • September 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      The real problem is all the government rigmarole. You could take a platform like an early VW Beetle or (for something more modern) an ’80s-era Honda CRX, both of which had (or could have) curb weights under 2,000 pounds. Now fit a direct-injection diesel of about 1 liter in size and a CVT transmission… should be 70-plus MPG, easily.

  9. Michael
    September 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I have been following Aptera since the beginning. They have pee’d away the excitement by taking years to roll anything out. I think they could easily have gone with a conventional rear motorcycle type drive, for instance.

  10. Marc
    September 23, 2011 at 2:02 am

    It’s a shame that Burt Rutan doesn’t focus at least a small part his genius on a venture like this. Anything lacking wings may not be challenging enough to merit his attention.

    The mileage claim almost seems too good to be true. I doubt if I could even come close to achieving it riding a Honda 50 with a hurricane tailwind at my back. It must be in conjunction with fully charged batteries.

    With peak oil a probability one wonders why some very rich individual hasn’t already offered substantial prize money to anyone who is first to develop a modestly priced vehicle that can be mass produced and gets, let’s say, 300 hundred M.P.G. A competition like that would only work if big brother stayed out completely. One government subsidies and regulations entered the mix the creative process required would be as good as dead.

    • dom
      September 23, 2011 at 2:11 am

      There was a million, or a few million dollar prize offered a few years ago for something along these lines. It was called The Automotive X-Prize. Not sure what happened with that though.

    • September 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

      It ought to be doable. Consider:

      My ancient (1983) 650 cc Honda Silverwing is capable of 60 MPG. It weighs about 450 pounds.That’s a gas engine not tuned to be particularly fuel-efficient, using carbs, and without overdrive gearing.
      The same engine, but bolted into a frame/chassis that weighed say 300 pounds (should be doable with alloys rather than tube steel), and tied to a transmission with steep top-gear overdrive, would probably be capable of 75-80 MPG.

      To carry the example further to a car –

      If you can keep the weight down to around 1,600 pounds and achieve very low rolling resistance (as Aptera does) and add a hybrid electric system, I see the claims as possible, even realistic. The chief problem with current hybrids is they weigh about 1,500 pounds too much! Electric batteries will probably never get to the point where they can propel a 3,000 pound vehicle for any distance at any real speed.

      But if it weighed 1,500 pounds… then it’s a different game…

  11. jaxvid
    September 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t think there is a conspiracy, only cold hard modern society facts. Large automakers cannot make enough money per unit to build something like that. The costs of union labor and retiree benefits, govt regulations and taxes, ensures that any mass produced automobile will have to pay for itself with extras, add-ons and etc. Until the dinosaur car industry dies not much is going to change.

  12. DJ
    September 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Craig Vetter, of Vetter Windjammer (motorcycle fairing) and fuel economy contests fame, has been working on streamlining his Honda Helix scooter for the last two or three years. Tons of photos and other data are on his website in 46 chapters so far. He states that he is coming out with a universal streamliner kit. The Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Runs” of the 1980’s led to 470 mpg.

  13. agneaux
    September 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I’ve been following the Aptera saga for several years with hopes of obtaining a hybrid version (the second version, the first being the all-electric). Recently, Aptera refunded everyone’s deposits, ostensibly because they could not get the car mass-produced in time. The chances of it ever being mass-produced seem to be falling exponentially as the days and weeks pass. They do seem to have some good people working for them, harvested from the “old school” automotive field. I believe Steve Fambro may be out of the picture now.

    I have never seen them claim anywhere near 400 mpg – the most I’ve seen is 300 (not sure if that is “equivalent” mileage for the all-electric, or for the gas-electric hybrid) and that was early-on; they seem to have toned that down somewhat. But even if it “only” got 100 mpg it would still be a major marketing coup.

    The problems they are having seem to stem from two causes, 1) Meeting excessive Federal government regulations, and 2) Problems stemming from mass-production of the composite materials; there may be other unstated problems. So far I have not heard of any “conspiracy” to keep them out of the market (a la the 1948 Tucker).

    Keep up the good work, love you columns!

  14. Dave Webb
    September 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    It feels wrong. I wouldn’t buy a 3 wheel vehicle like that. I would be afraid of it.
    I had a brother-in-law in the 70s who worked 40 miles from home. He used 3 small Fords to get to work. One in the barn, one for parts, and one for the road. He was experimenting on changing the nature of the gasoline. He was heating it in the fuel line to a fairly high temperature to get his fuel economy. He said that most of the gasoline goes out the tail pipe on most vehicles. By changing the temperature it enters the engine it could get high gas mileage. No clue what the engineering to make that work is.
    You want a vehicle that is stable. When there is 24 inches of snow on the ground with high winds, in an emergency I would like to be able to get to the store or a medical facility. Four wheel drive is nice.
    I want it simple stupid! KISS! Keep It Simple Stupid. I think good gas mileage is great. I want something I can change the plugs on without an engineering degree. I don’t want a nylon timing chain. I don’t want to tear the front end off an engine to get to parts. I want the parts cheap and guaranteed. I want to get to the parts without going through a big hassle. So don’t build an engine no one can work on.
    Use engineering and physics to build the working parts.
    I do not want an engine that fails in 5 years. Build it to last. That is basically why American cars when bankrupt. They got a bad name with repairs.
    The Japanese cars got a bad name for planning a timing belt that lasts only 90-100,000 miles before you have a 700 dollar job fixing it. Yes you have to tear the front of the engine apart to get to the timing gear.
    Don’t re-engineer things that are not broke. Obviously they are re-engineering things to keep people from repairing them.
    Personally I feel that the ugly word FRAUD comes to mind when dealing with these horse traders. I think deliberately engineering things to break is FRAUD. Lots of luck in our court system getting past their company of lawyers. But FRAUD is obvious. The obvious solution is to put them out of business by not buying their products.
    The same with other products recently on the market. Capacitors in Flat Screen TVs that make it go bad in under 5 years comes to mind. Refrigerators that lasted 20 years suddenly cannot go for 10. Same with other appliances such as washers, dryers and dishwashers. Well, I think the FRAUD thing needs to be sent up the flag pole to see if it will fly.
    All of this is economics. Throw away society . . .
    The cars are just the tip of the iceberg here. The government actually encourages this kind of thing. Maybe getting the government out of the process will work. Don’t think so, but it might work.
    Something as simple as GE Light bulbs comes to mind. My own experience is that bulbs from GE last half as long as those from Sylvania. Why? Planned failure. So who do the consumer people rate best. GE of course.
    If you want a car that gets extra good mileage do not throw away the good engineering with the bad. We can make a car out of anything. But the real truth is our lives depend on what we drive.
    Some idiot out there is going to hit you at least once in your lifetime through no fault of your own if you drive. We have to have cars that can take a hit. I am no engineer, but the picture gives me the shakes. Given the people I drive around on the roads, I want something solid that can take a hit. I mostly drive vehicles with that kind of history.

    • September 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

      I ride a motorcycle regularly – except when the weather sucks. I know I’m more vulnerable on a bike than I would be in a big truck, SUV (or even a standard car) but I still ride because I enjoy the feeling – and love the economy (I have a touring bike that gets better mileage than a Prius and even my sport bike does better than any current economy car). But when it’s raining or cold… then I prefer not to ride.

      Something like the Aptera would address that problem. I could drive that in the rain – or when it’s cold out – and still get motorcycle-like mileage.

      So, the concept’s solid – to me, anyhow.

      The real question is: How much does it cost?

      If it’s under $25k, then it’s got a bright future.

      But if it’s another $35k-plus deal, then forget it. Even at $4 per gallon, it makes more sense to buy a $15k standard economy car – or better yet, half that amount for a slightly used economy car.

    • BrentP
      September 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      As an engineer who has spent a lot of years in product development I am always amused by what people think brought about the changes in products.

      There’s no conspiracy theory to make things that break or to force people to buy new. Only robber-baron banksters and new wealth like Bill Gates can afford things that last forever. Because of this manufactured products are designed with a finite life. That finite life is defined internally by the company and reflects their intended market and price point.
      This life is reinforced by their internal accelerated life testing.

      That said, most of your complaints about automobiles above were not driven by customers, price points, accelerated testing, but rather government and central banks.

      Japanese cars are meant to be trouble free until the government mandated inspections make them too expensive to keep. Where parts are just plain wearing out. This is a factor that has made their cars very weighted to assembly over service.

      Nylon timing gears, timing belts, etc… fuel economy regulations drive companies to remove every gram they can. Moving parts are a double savings. (yes cars get heavier with gadgets, but that’s what customers by and large want) The savings also need to offset government required equipment as well.

      But then there is what covers every product made today. The central banks. A manufacturer does not want to raise that price on the shelf, no increase as defined in a number of some fiat currency. The problem is that the central banks keep devaluing the money. So what does a manufacturer need to do to hold a price point? Right, it finds cheaper ways to make the product.

      Mainstream economists are probably the most ignorant educated people I’ve learned of. Their formulas and other nonsense display a complete ignorance. They’ll see that same price point and declare no inflation. They might even declare deflation if the manufacturer has figured out how to add more features and even if he’s increased the price. When they do consider substitutions they consider it an inflation lowering factor. WTF?

      Parts expense is largely driven by how manufacturers do things and competition. A popular model with lots of different people selling parts and the prices will be much lower than with a car with lower numbers, exclusivity, etc and so on. There are reasons Ford Mustang parts are cheap and BMW M3 parts aren’t that has nothing to do with engineering of them.

      All that said, if you want to have something that lasts a long time, buy a marketing grade or three above your usage. If you are going to use residential, buy commercial. That commercial unit will have design for serviceability, it could easily have a design life that at your usage would be longer than you can expect to be alive, etc and so on. Now see how much more it costs.

      Buy commercial grade appliances for your home… they’ll probably last 50 years.

      • Boothe
        September 28, 2011 at 7:55 am

        During my short stint in process engineering, I experienced precisely what BrentP describes; we were required to cut electric motor input costs to increase profitability. If I came up with a productivity improvement, could cut out some packaging or found a cheaper parts source, the end user price of that motor did not come down. The profit margin went up.

        Certain OEMs had their own specs for motors designed specifically for the equipment they built and they paid a premium for higher quality. If we couldn’t supply to their spec at a satisfactory price, they found someone else that could; usually in China. They were facing the same dilemma we were; cut costs or lose market share and stock-holders.

        Since 80% of the cost was materials and 20% was labor (the one cost you have the most control over), the focus was on reducing labor. Head count reduction equals less domestic jobs. Fewer domestic jobs equal less people buying appliances and equipment with our motors in it, resulting in lower earnings per share. This causes management to pressure plant personnel to cut costs even further. The cycle feeds on itself finally sending jobs overseas. The plant where I worked went to Mexico, the quality of the motors did not improve and the price did not come down.

        I have a relative who was an electrical engineer (retired) for a major American manufacturer. I commented to him that nearly all of the ancillary lamps in my Mazda pickup blew within 2 weeks of each other; tail lights, parking lights, instrument cluster, etc. He said they were always amazed at, and envied, how accurately the Japanese could design known mean time to failure. I asked him about the light bulbs that were still burning in my Grandfathers shop that were from the 1920’s (this was in the early 80’s). The answer was simple, heavier filaments and either a really good vacuum or inert gas fill. Of course the trade off was less light output for higher power consumption and higher manufacturing cost; here again no free lunch.

        One more ditto for Brent; while in process engineering, I had hydraulic lift tables on the assembly lines failing. When I told management, they exclaimed that those lifts were less than three years old! Due to the cost cutting rampage (a two year ROI required on all capital projects), the previous engineer bought tables rated for 1000 lbs. They routinely had to handle 1200 – 1400 lbs. Since I couldn’t show a productivity improvement (cost justification), we had to wait until a stack of motor bodies fell on an assembler (lawsuit justification) before I could replace them. I took the opportunity to buy lift tables rated for 3000 lbs. knowing that at 50% load they would essentially last forever. They cost about $300 each over a 2000 lb. table, once again making Brent’s point that you pay more for better quality.

        Heavier duty, higher quality items last longer but cost more, it really is that simple. So ask yourself, would you be willing to pay $250 or $100 or even $50 for a light bulb that will cost you more in electricity today, so your great-grandkids could still have the use of it 60 years from now? Probably not.

        The same goes for cars, washing machines, refrigerators, etc.; heavy duty, high quality every day consumer items have been priced off the market through inflation, regulation, unionization, thinning profit margins and no wage increases in the U.S. since the 1970’s. There’s nothing mysterious about any of it.

  15. Brian Henderson
    September 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Aptera 2e………prototype…..people……no car, no sale.
    Fantastic idea!…. Where is Steve Jobs?
    RE: Aptera prototype, concept, not made yet, dream…. vehicles!
    The car IDEA ….itself….fantastic… NO QUESTION. I would still love to own a real one. Not one car sold to a customer and a DOE request for something like $184M of taxpayer money.

    Companies are run by people not prototype vehicles…….so…
    Check out the COMPLETE ….wait for it…..history…..
    Check the public internet articles….Google the public Aptera history and internet articles…also check the corporate officers by name and check their histories and see what kind of comments have been generated on Aptera by reporters and people WAITING AND WAITING for this car.
    Please note the CFO and her history. (Delphi) Note the CEO and his history. (Saleen) Note the chief marketing officer and his history. (Saleen)
    Now that you know these histories and performance….

    Would you invest your money with this team at this time?
    Should the U.S. taxpayer invest via the DOE based on past histories and current performance…. or demand a…
    “NO LOAN period….unless you Aptera BOD…. GET RID of all current mgmt and completely clean mgmt house and….the loan will be in small financial waves based on performance …. and have all kinds of checks and conditional performance milestones….. prior to ANY further investment?

    Aptera 2e, the three wheel electric vehicle …. after all the money spent and still more requests for more money….. and many corporate officer paychecks and moves to new fantastic locations …was…..and is still….a very cool….. …. IDEA.
    Next step:….. re-design a 4 wheel version that will take just a little more time. Almost there…thanks for the support…stay tuned….

  16. Marc
    September 28, 2011 at 1:36 am

    The concept is great but I simply can’t handle the name. I sounds a little too much like a heavily advertised prescription pill for acid reflux syndrome or some other ailment. Oh well, I guess the other car companies have been doing pretty much the same thing for some time now. The animal, weather, cosmological, and mythological names that I became accustomed to as a child aren’t soothing, nurturing, and androgynous enough for today’s tastes.

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