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The “Never Charge” EV of the Future

Aptera. Image courtesy of Aptera.

Henry Caldwell

Just imagine the electric vehicle (EV) of the future. Park it in the sun, and you never need to charge it. Or charge it once and go 1,000 miles without another charge.

When will that be? A company called Aptera says it will be in about one year.

What if the car turned out to be beautifully sporty, with a top speed of 110 miles per hour (mph) and an acceleration that could take it from 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds? What if it has a roomy interior and styling that will turn the head of almost everyone in town? And what if the future is close enough to reality now, that 3,000 have already been ordered?

Looking at their figures, it is clear that a range of 1,000 miles on one charge is a definite possibility. And the question of whether a car might never need to be charged is really only dependent on how it is driven. And when it comes to design, the photos should tell you.

It may be possible, but is it real? We might have a hint about the answer in the fact that Jay Leno already owns a prototype that was built several years ago, and though its drive system is entirely out of date, its overall design is fairly mature.

The Aptera was designed from the ground up for efficiency. Its shape was designed to have the lowest drag possible, and in that it seems to have succeeded. This is important, because at a speed of 50 mph about half of a car’s energy is used just pushing air around. Because of this, and other efficiencies, one measly kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity is all it takes to drive an Aptera 10 miles at 50 mph.

The range of the Aptera is determined by the battery. It will come with four different battery sizes, 25, 40, 60, and 100 kWh, for ranges of 250 to 1,000 miles. A three-wheeled car, it can come with power given to all three wheels, or just to the front two, with the three-wheeled option having faster acceleration.

It may look like it is cramped and tiny, but it is said to be roomy. It has 25 cubic feet of storage in the back and quite a lot of room for the two people in it. It is nearly five feet tall, and it is 14 feet 4 inches long.

Because it has three wheels, it has to be registered as a motorcycle in most states. Because it has a fully enclosed cab, however, its occupants need not wear helmets, and it can be driven with a regular car license.

We might ask whether the Aptera points to a different future for driving. I think the answer to that question is definitely yes. The Aptera has solar cells integral in its skin. Efficient designs have been around for a while. When Aptera combined solar cells and extreme efficiency, it showed it was serious about the design, pushing it to a limit no one else had yet achieved.

The Aptera with three-wheeled drive and 100 kWh battery is not what I would call cheap; it is priced at $46,000. With two-wheel drive and a 25kWh battery, however, it is priced at $25,900, and that does not include cost reductions for whatever incentives the buyer can get.

Now, you might ask, “What about this never-charge thing?” The Aptera has 700 watts of built-in solar cells, and that amount can be increased on special order. The company has an online solar calculator, which calculates the number of times you would expect to charge a car based on your driving habits (http://bit.ly/Aptera-calc). According to the calculator, an Aptera would put enough electricity into its batteries to cover an average of 25 miles per day in central New England without charging. Based on the available numbers, I would say this is entirely possible, though I would expect to charge it occasionally in the winter.

The next question might be, “Is this how we will drive in the future?” I think it is pretty clear that this is a real possibility. There are even a number of ways this can be done based on how a car is designed. In the case of the Aptera, car’s high efficiency came at a price, which was partly to limit it to just two people and partly to go to a design for extreme drag reduction. For another car, efficiency might mean a design for lower speeds and acceleration to keep energy use to a minimum.

I think it is pretty clear that the Aptera points to a future where things may be better.

Aptera’s web site is www.aptera.us.

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