Aptera Photo

As electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers toil away to reduce charge times and increase driving range, one startup took a more radical approach and cut the cord altogether. In December, Aptera unveiled the first EV that requires no charging for many daily users. The eponymously named vehicle has an integrated solar array that can power 5 miles (8 kilometers) of travel for every hour in the sun, which translates to an average of about 40 miles (64 kilometers) of free range each day. The team also developed optional panels that can be attached to the roof and hatch to increase the solar-powered range to 64 miles (103 kilometers) per day. And there’s a conventional charging port to accommodate more extreme distances, too. 

That’s not the only big change. The new Aptera doesn’t look like your average EV, either. The three-wheeled, two-passenger car is shaped like the front of a plane and fabricated from lightweight composite materials that offer strength without weight. Another design shift: The main body is constructed of only four parts, instead of the usual 200 to 300. The design transformation meant Aptera could deliver an EV capable of traveling as far as 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) when it’s fully charged. Steve Fambro, the company’s co-CEO, admits that idea seemed “absolutely absurd,” but it all came down to science and numbers.

Still, getting there required a willingness to toss aside any preconceived notions about EVs—a tough call for an industry with a long and storied history.

“The automotive landscape of today is far too concerned with risk and would never think about stepping outside of the box to make a composite vehicle that’s super light-weight and aerodynamic because it’s so much different than what’s available on the market today,” says Chris Anthony, founder and co-CEO.

The company’s innovative thinking offers another competitive edge: The three-wheel configuration makes the vehicle exempt from many federal automotive standards that four-wheel cars must meet. 

The project could mark a breakthrough for the EV market, expected to top US$802 billion globally by 2027, according to Allied Market Research. But it’s an even bigger power surge for Aptera. The company shut down in 2011, because it was unable to secure enough private funding to receive a conditional US$150 million U.S. Department of Energy grant. Over the past year, though, the company raised over US$2 million in crowdfunding and millions more from investors, including project partners Munro & Associates, which will help scale production.

With funding secured, the team rebooted the project nine months ago with a focus on efficiency and creating a car that went beyond just ticking a box to meet regulations or marketing something that only “rich people can afford,” says Fambro. “Ensuring that there’s a mainstream path to make electric vehicles there for everyone is the legacy that we’d like to leave.”

Within a week of its debut, Aptera had already received more than 3,000 orders for the vehicle and plans to start deliveries in 2021 and 2022. To keep up with demand, the company will ramp up production at its new factory in San Diego, California, USA. Plus, there are two more development projects in the works.