Flying on the Ground

A new aerodynamic vehicle about to be introduced into the marketplace could change the face of cars as we know them. The new Aptera Typ-1 is an advanced vehicle that owes more than a little to aeronautic technology. The vehicle is designed to marry advanced aerodynamics with lightweight composite technology, creating a powerful, yet extremely safe, vehicle that is a joy to drive even for the most performance-minded individuals.

The Aptera Typ-1 will be available in all-electric and hybrid gasoline-electric models for less than $30,000. The electric version slated for delivery in 2008 with the hybrid model to follow. The all-electric model is said to have a range of 120 miles. In testing by the company, the plug-in series hybrid has achieved more than 300 miles per gallon, which translates to a range of more than 600 miles. Despite their lightweight appearance, both models are loaded with safety features.

"Unveiling the Aptera Typ-1 represents a pivotal point in automotive history as we mark the transition from research and development to manufacturing the most energy-efficient vehicle with a price tag to fit almost any budget," said co-founder and CEO Steve Fambro.

Perhaps we can excuse Fambro's hyperbole. It might not be a landmark in automotive history, but it certainly is a different approach to the automobile.  Through extensive fluid dynamics modeling and materials engineering, the Aptera team has created what it says is the most efficient, lowest-drag shape that can surround two occupants side-by-side. And at the same time it has made safety a priority in the design. Additionally, the car features three wheels, making it technically a motorcycle and eligible for most carpool lanes, even with just the driver aboard. 

The car has "two-plus-one" seating, offering ample room for driver and passenger while an infant seat (for newborns to children up to age three) can be located in the middle behind them. Despite the vehicle's compact dimensions, storage room is generous with enough space to fit 15 bags of groceries, two full-size golf club bags or even a couple of seven-foot surfboards as long as the infant seat is removed. (We're not sure what to do if your infant wants to surf.)  The vehicle is loaded with safety features. Among them are a front crumple zone, a front end that re-directs crash energy in a frontal impact, steel and composite side and rollover protection as well as driver and passenger side airbags.

The Aptera Typ-1 is available in two models. The all-electric model is powered exclusively with batteries and will get its driver around town for approximately 120 miles depending on driving conditions, load and speed. At night, you can simply plug the Aptera into any standard 110-volt outlet, and in just a few hours the vehicle will be fully charged and ready for another 120 miles.

The plug-in hybrid version of the vehicle might be the more practical of the two. It is powered by an electric drivetrain, but is also assisted by a fuel-efficient gasoline-powered generator, which stretches the range considerably. In typical driving, the hybrid Aptera may achieve over 300 miles per gallon, a range far beyond any other passenger vehicle available today. This drive system is similar to the electrically driven system proposed for the new Chevrolet Volt, which is now being shown in concept car form.

The most interesting thing about the Aptera Typ-1 is that it offers features that typically are not found on any vehicle, not even an advanced hybrid or all-electric model. Solar cells embedded under the roof operate an always-on climate control system, ensuring the interior never gets too hot or too cold. The dashboard display and infotainment system is controlled by an in-vehicle computer, which also controls the "Eyes Forward" vision system. By replacing the side mirrors with embedded cameras that display a 180-degree rear view in the front of the instrument panel, the system gives the driver complete situational awareness without taking his or her eyes off of the road.

Other standard features include driver and passenger side airbags, energy-absorbing and impact-deflecting passenger safety cell, and advanced drive computer with GPS navigation, CD/MP3/DVD player and XM satellite radio.  Among other features is a large rear-view camera and complete vehicle diagnostic system, LED interior and exterior lighting for maximum energy efficiency and an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) -- an automatic identification method so a driver never has to pull out their keys to enter or start their Aptera. The final bit of technical trickery is a USB port for powering a laptop or charging an MP3 player and other mobile devices.

For those who are intrigued by this new automotive device, fully refundable reservation deposits of $500 for the purchase of the vehicle are now being accepted from California residents on the Aptera Web site. The company says it will initially deliver vehicles in Southern California, then in Northern California and finally to other regions nationwide.