Electric cars are, in just about every quantifiable way, superior to gasoline vehicles. They accelerate with the speed of exotic supercars. They can run off clean, green power. And with fewer moving parts, electric cars are remarkably durable, with low maintenance costs.
However, you still have to charge them. If you’re a Tesla driver in California, you have access to a network of fast Supercharging stations. For others, charging your car might mean running an extension cord from your condo to the street and waiting 12 hours to get a mere 50 miles of range.
But what if you didn’t need to plug in at all? That’s the promise of the Aptera EV. It’s a three-wheeled, two-passenger “Never Charge Vehicle” priced from $25,900 to $46,000. The car is available to preorder now for $100 down and is expected to ship in 2021.
Instead of relying on electricity to charge, the vehicle can get substantial power via solar panels. And thanks to an extremely aerodynamic shape built out of strong, lightweight materials including carbon, Kevlar, and hemp, it needs less energy than competitors to drive, so the solar panels can generate meaningful miles on the road, whereas they barely move the needle on most electric cars.
Aptera itself is not a new company. It was founded in 2005, then shut down in 2011 when it couldn’t secure enough private funding to receive a conditional $150 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to produce a highly efficient electric vehicle with a similar silhouette to the new Aptera EV. But in the past year, Aptera has rallied, raising millions of dollars from investors—including hundreds of thousands in crowdfunding.
Aptera’s newest vehicle can soak up 5 miles of charge every hour it’s in bright sun, or about 40 miles of free range per day. (Cloudier days will be slower.) With extra panels that can be attached to the hood and hatch during charging, that figure bumps to a full 64 miles of range per day. Given that the average person drives around 15 miles to work, the Aptera EV could be a viable commuter car for the week—especially if you park on blacktop with access to sunlight.
The Aptera EV has some impressive overall performance stats, zooming from 0 to 60 in as few as 3.5 seconds, and featuring a fully charged range of up to 1,000 miles. The vehicle is available in dozens of customizable configurations, which even include a lifted suspension and an integrated tent, so feel free to imagine this as your off-the-grid dream machine. If you do manage to find the right high-wattage plug, you can add 500 miles of charge in a mere hour. You are by no means stuck with solar when it’s not the perfect solution for your travel schedule.
The three-wheel design is quirky to be sure, and while the cabin inside is sleek, the process of squeezing yourself in and out might make it feel more like a tiny sports car than a luxuriously sized Tesla. However, unlike other three-wheeled “autocycles” that skirt the safety regulations of cars, Aptera will have front and side airbags, and its internal compartment is modeled after those of Formula One racecars.
“We are designing to exceed all passenger car standards and the previous version had the highest roof crush strength of all passenger cars on the road, and it performed exceedingly well in actual side and frontal crash tests,” the company claims. Classified as a motorcycle, the Aptera EV can be driven on the highway. The only catch is that a child cannot ride in the vehicle until future versions update the seats.
If all of Aptera’s promises prove out—and anyone who has followed the company’s storied history has reason to be a bit skeptical—the EV’s design is nothing short of incredible. That said, if you are spending $35,000, a car like the Tesla Model 3 will offer a lot more in terms of creature comforts than the Aptera EV. You’ll just need to find a way to plug it in.