10 Futurist Predictions in the World of Transportation


The Aptera

The Aptera 2e is a three-wheeled plug-in electric car, cozily built for two.

Or rather, it was.

Aptera Motors was founded in 2005, when the advent of a true mass-market electric vehicle was a happy, optimism-inducing thought...well before the industry began to see the situation in a more realistic light. So what made the Aptera different from its predecessors, or from its own kin, for that matter -- other electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, which are also not meeting sales expectations?

Well, the looks, for one. Sleek, glossy white and globular, like a car Apple might design, all in the name of aerodynamics. (That's why the car had three wheels -- adding a fourth reduced efficiency by 34-percent.) The car's actual mechanics were also considerably different (whereas today's electric cars try to make the driving experience as conventional as possible). To maximize efficiency, Aptera cut down on the typical drivetrain power loss by simply trimming down the drivetrain -- there was no transmission. Instead, power output was selected via dashboard control, letting the driver choose from maximum efficiency, normal driving, or improved acceleration modes. All these design elements added up to huge energy savings -- Aptera guaranteed a full battery charge would be good to travel 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) with two occupants and a couple hundred pounds of cargo. Constructed of a honeycomb-like composite material several times stronger than steel, the car was designed to exceed federal crash standards, and complemented by sustainable, eco-friendly interior design. And, the Aptera Web site says, the cars were designed to be built in the United States, with over 90-percent of its materials sourced from American suppliers.

A 2009 "Wired" article said Aptera 2es would start being delivered by the end of that year, at a sticker price between between $25,000 and $40,000 -- but it didn't happen. Even though Aptera had a waiting list of eager customers, the company said in 2011 that investor funds had dried up and they couldn't keep the doors open any longer. And that's it, apparently -- they were done. After the company's closure hit the news in a rather controversial fashion (online videos showed Aptera employees smashing prototypes, raising the Internet-based ire of expectant owners who thought the display was disrespectful), a longtime member of an Aptera online forum told ABC News that thousands of people had placed deposits on the cars.

The Aptera Web site is still up, featuring a screed to sustainability and betraying no sign of its failures. But all the optimism in the world just couldn't get the job done to their standards. Now they have one more chance -- a buyout from Chinese automaker Jonway Group in spring of 2012. Aesthetics aside, electric cars may no longer be seen as "futuristic," but they still have potential.