Aptera is certainly not the sort of name an old-school carmaker would give to its newest creation. Biologists will recognise it as the term for scuttling wingless insects—silverfish and suchlike. But Steve Fambro, the boss of the eponymous Californian company that plans to make and sell electric vehicles under this name, hopes they will soon be swarming over the state's highways.
Unlike Tesla, another boutique electric-vehicle maker from the Golden State, Aptera is aiming for the bottom end of the market. A Tesla sports car will set you back $98,000 (or it would if you could get your hands on one: Tesla has delayed shipment of its first 50 cars until next year). An Aptera, by contrast, starts at $26,900, and should be available this time next year. And instead of a Ferrari knock-off, you get a space-age tricycle. But Aptera and Tesla have things in common. They are both small. They were both started by people with no experience in the motor industry. And they are both aiming to start by roping in the eco-fashionistas of California, and then work outwards to the mainstream.
The name Aptera was chosen because the vehicle resembles a small, wingless aircraft. Its three-wheel design exempts it from onerous federal testing regulations. The outer shell is made of a carbon-fibre composite, rather than metal. The lines are wind-tunnel aerodynamic. And protuberances are kept to a minimum. Wing mirrors, for example, are replaced by a rear-facing camera with a 180° field of view and the exhaust valves are recessed to minimise turbulence. In the pure plug-in version, those valves are for waste heat from the electronics. There is also a petrol-electric hybrid, with a single-cylinder generator that extends the range from 200km to 1,130km. Top speed is 150kph.