There’s yet another new startup company trying to create yet another super-efficient replacement for the run of the mill automobile. This company, Aptera, is taking a rather unique approach: a three-wheeled vehicle with an epoxy resin skin.
The prototype features high-tech touches such as rear and side cameras instead of rear-view side mirrors to further reduce wind drag. There’s a solar panel on the roof to provide a bit of extra power. Making the car out of laminates slashes its weight to about 1,500 pounds, making it potentially one of the lightest cars on the road. Less weight means longer range.
But do three wheels create efficiency? Not necessarily. But it does allow the vehicle to be classified as a motorcycle, which has some advantages.
The three-wheel design — two in front, one in back — means the resulting vehicle will be classed as a motorcycle in many states, including California. The testing and red tape required to market a motorcycle is less rigorous than for a four-wheel car. "It allows us to leapfrog into the market," [CEO Steve] Fambro says.
The company isn’t focusing just on energy efficiency, but also on developmental efficiency. Reusing proven design elements is one driver.
The company also hopes to use off-the-shelf lithium phosphate batteries that are proven and safe, Fambro says.
In some cases the efficiency is driven by a simple re-thinking of testing requirements.
Fambro says he isn’t worried [about competition from major automakers] because Aptera is more nimble than the giants. For example, when the company needed to choose low-rolling-resistance tires, it didn’t spend weeks or months quizzing manufacturers. The crew simply mounted each one they could find on a cart loaded with 400 pounds of sand, then rolled it down a hill and up the other side to see which tire would carry it the farthest. "You don’t need a six-month study to get good data," he says.
Analyzing the shortest, simplest, and cheapest path to value. Sounds suspiciously like a little lean influence is at play, right? Perhaps.
Before production starts, managers are being issued copies of books detailing how Toyota cuts waste and encourages quality on assembly lines.
Well… I don’t know. Hopefully more is being done that simply handing out books. You can’t learn real lean manufacturing by just reading a book or watching a PowerPoint presentation. The power and magic (sorry, Norman!) becomes evident when you visit a real lean company, go to a hands-on workshop, and interact with passionate practitioners at conferences. Lean needs to be touched to be understood.
But I know how a news story often doesn’t capture the details, so I’ll give Aptera the benefit of the doubt. Looks like an interesting vehicle created with developmental simplicity.