The folks over at Popular Mechanics were able to finagle an exclusive test drive and interview of the upcoming Aptera Typ-1. For those uninitiated, the Aptera Typ-1 is an all-electric plug in vehicle coming to market in 2009 for under $30,000. Sometime thereafter, Aptera plans to market the Typ-2, a 300 MPG gasoline hybrid which shares the Typ-1’s body and features.
The more I keep up with this car, the more I believe this is the first real re-thinking of the automobile since its inception. I know this sounds a little over the top, but the Typ-1’s design is what I consider truly clean and innovative. In fact, I think if this car achieves satisfactory adoption, the rest of the auto industry could very well be shaken up. And that, in my opinion, is a good thing because auto makers seem geared towards larger oil belching monsters.
Looking at the 1907 Ford Model T and today’s 2007 Ford Explorer, I see similarity. Now, when I compare the Aptera Typ-1 and the 2007 Ford Explorer, I see much less similarity. And not just at first glance. Overall, the Aptera really is superbly different and better.
Which bring us back to the Aptera, a rethinking of what a car should be. The frame, for example, borrows heavily from the design of boats and planes, where space and weight are at a premium. The Typ-1’s suspension has been lifted from the pinnacle in automobile design: Formula 1. And, the typically boring act of ingress and egress has been improved with swing up doors (as seen on supercars). The driveability is very good, with stable yet responsive handling and strong acceleration. Visibility is also outstanding. The climate control system is a complete rethinking, which uses one heat pump for both cooling and heating.
Since Aptera was able to step back and design a truly revolutionary car, they went all out. Roof-based solar panels provide power and continual cooling, so the car’s interior always remains cool even when the car is powered off. Interior electronics are as impressive as they are functional. Standard fare 1900s-era dashboard gauges have been replaced with video screens showing vital stats and a 180 degree reward view. Traditional center-console old tymey knobs and levers have been replaced with a modern touch screen monitor.
Overall, this really is a massively clean slate design, where weight and aerodynamics have been drastically improved. The body and frame assembly appears to be very safe and solid, and weighs in at a very light 1480 pounds (A Honda Civic weighs rougly twice as much). So, the Typ-1’s 1480 pounds is very light by todays standard, but it’s highly advanced composite frame should provide more than adequate crash protection. And, the aerodynamic coefficient of drag is a mind-boggling 0.11.
The only possible semi-gripe I have is the limited seating: two adults plus one child. In truth, this is really not all that bad and should provide adequate human transportation capacity for many people. If/when the Typ-1 and Typ-2 really start selling, Aptera has a five-seater in the works. And I certainly hope that both the Typ-1 and Typ-2 take off. Once they do, Aptera’s five seater could push auto industry shake-up forcing major auto manufactures to deliver revolutionary transportation for the future of mankind and our planet.
But, it all comes back to people. I think people voting with their pocket books is what’s required to pave the way for even more radical designs, with further decrease in weight and improvements in efficiency.