The Aptera's unique design addresses common EV barriers ⚡️
Aptera shows us that "less is more" when it comes to making the most efficient EV possible
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Story: How Aptera’s unique design solves common EV weaknesses
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Photo: NASA captures an image of the Sun “smiling”
🚗 How Aptera’s unique design addresses common EV barriers
The problems with EVs
Decarbonizing transportation will require rethinking everything from ships and planes to public transport and road vehicles.
The answer to decarbonizing road vehicles has been EVs. But if you recall from my post on EV batteries, electrifying road vehicles isn't so straightforward:
EV battery materials like lithium and cobalt are monopolized by a few countries and companies. And the mining practices surrounding them have been shady (and illegal sometimes) and destructive to workers, communities, and ecosystems.
EVs require charging infrastructure so people can charge their cars as conveniently as they would refuel their old gas tanks. And the chargers should be super fast.
The electricity powering EVs should come from renewable sources like solar and wind, instead of fossil fuels.
Solving each of these problems will be a long journey. But what if we redesigned EVs in a way that eliminates these problems?
I discovered a company whose sole purpose is creating the most efficient vehicle ever. Aptera Motors, based in San Diego, is finally on the verge of delivering the first Aptera vehicles after 10+ years of R&D.
Aptera's "less is more" design philosophy
At first glance, the Aptera looks like the typical sci-fi concept car that gets paraded at car expos by the likes of Mercedes and BMW.
But the design is the result of relentless optimization to make the most efficient EV possible. It came down to improving three elements:
Steve Fambro, the Aptera co-founder, realized that existing vehicles were not aerodynamic at all. They spent way too much energy just pushing air out of the way. If you watch Formula 1, you know how slight variations in the car's shape can help it "cut" through the air for maximum performance.
The Aptera's shape is an example of biomimicry in practice. It's inspired by how sharks (and other fish) flatten their bodies when swimming close to the ocean floor to reduce drag and waste less energy.
After testing it in NASA's wind tunnels, the Aptera turned out to have less aerodynamic drag than one side-view mirror of a standard pickup truck, according to the founders. They credit the advances in computational fluid dynamics and simulation which have allowed them to optimize every part of the car at unprecedented speeds.
If you’re into cars, the Aptera has a drag coefficient of 0.13.
As a reference: Ford F-150 (0.463), Tesla Model 3 (0.23), Toyota Corolla (0.29)
Another factor in making the vehicle more efficient is reducing its weight.
The Aptera weighs 65% less than the average EV because it uses lightweight materials made from carbon fibre. It also only has three wheels.
Removing a wheel removes a touchpoint where energy is lost from the resistance of rolling on the ground. The motors are built into the wheels*, instead of having one giant battery pack sitting under the floor of the EV. This helps spread the weight around the car to ensure stability, according to the second co-founder Chris Anthony.
*Correction: I initially wrote that the batteries were built into the wheels, which is incorrect. Only the motors are, and the Aptera has a regular battery pack just like any other EV. Thanks to the kind stranger who emailed me and corrected me. I’ll do better next time.
Reducing weight comes with compromises. The Aptera only seats two people, so it probably won't be the right choice for families with kids. But it could be valuable to someone who drives to work on their own every day.
#3: Charging Features
The Aptera's exterior is covered in solar panels. The highest range model, in ideal conditions, can recharge up to 60 km (40 miles) of range per day under the sun.
Solar-powered EVs have been somewhat of a pipe dream because typical EVs are inefficient and require more energy to cover the same distances. But the efficiency gains from the Aptera's design make solar charging feasible in this case.
The ultimate objective for Aptera was to make the vehicle so efficient that it can solely run on solar power, with little to no plug-in charging required. But if you need to charge it, you don't need a special charger. Your typical outlet will do.
In terms of numbers, the Aptera uses 100 watt-hours per mile, which is more efficient than a standard Tesla Model 3’s 250 watt-hours per mile.
Can Aptera go from designing and prototyping to scaling and manufacturing?
I’ve gotten used to hearing that EVs need bigger batteries and more powerful chargers. But learning about Aptera’s design philosophy is a testament to how innovation can happen by going off the beaten path.
Aptera hasn’t yet delivered a vehicle to any of the 37,000 customers that made reservations. They plan to make the first deliveries by the end of 2022.
I'm cautiously optimistic because going from prototypes to large-scale manufacturing isn't easy. EV startups like Lucid and Rivian are burning through cash to get their vehicles to customers.
But I think Aptera has an advantage here.
Their cars require fewer batteries and materials to deliver the same (and even better) performance than other EVs. The real question becomes whether they can keep up with the demand and deliver vehicles promptly. As Lucid learned, people will cancel their orders if you make them wait too long.
I'll follow Aptera’s progress closely and share important updates in upcoming Year 2049 posts. Meanwhile, you can vote on the next post I write in the poll below.
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If you enjoyed today’s story, I’ve compiled some additional links to satisfy your curiosity:
Sandy Munro interviews the Aptera co-founders (YouTube) – highly recommended. Sandy is one of Aptera’s advisors and investors.
🗳 Vote on my next story
Tell me what you want me to write about next by voting on the poll below.
Lab-grown meat: Looking at the problems lab-grown meat can solve, the barriers, and the recent FDA approval.
Reducing methane emissions: Methane is more damaging than CO2 in the short term, and I want to talk about some solutions I’ve been reading about.
Circular design: A design trend gaining traction in the clothing space. Brands like North Face are overhauling their approach to making clothes so they can last longer and be easily recycled at the end of their lifetime.
🌞 Photo: NASA catches the Sun smiling
The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a picture of the Sun smiling earlier this month.
The dark areas/patches are called "coronal holes". These areas aren't as hot as surrounding areas, which makes them darker when captured in UV light or X-ray images.
It’s definitely not the most charming smile 🌞
Previous episodes you’ll enjoy
You can also check out all previous Year 2049 articles to learn about other technologies and innovations shaping the future of energy, transportation, food, the internet, and more.
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