tirsdag 2. februar 2010

EV maker Aptera in disarray as founders fade away

It’s official: Steve Fambro, co-founder of Aptera, the futuristic three-wheeled electric car company, has officially vacated his post, along with his partner Chris Anthony. Both took publicly took a hiatus starting in November and then failed to return, following disputes with the company’s current management. Could this shakeup delay Aptera’s release? And will it matter in a market dominated by Tesla, Fisker, Toyota and General Motors?
The Aptera 2e has made its way on many lists of “green cars to watch,” mostly due to its unique appearance. With just three wheels and an aerodynamic body shape, it looks like something out of Minority Report or the Jetsons. Granted, when VentureBeat went for a ride in one last year, it didn’t feel any less substantial than a regular four-wheel sedan, but it did draw stares from passersby, and there have always been doubt about its broader market appeal when other advanced vehicles are being built to look like every other road vehicle, more or less.
While Fambro and Anthony have retained their seats on the Carlsbad, Calif. company’s board of directors, they have little say in day-to-day decision making, even though it was their original vision. These responsibilities will fall to Aptera’s new CEO Paul Wilbur — one of the main sources of conflict with the original leadership team (though it remains uncertain why the rift occurred).
Shortly after Fambro and Anthony departed in November, Aptera announced major delays in its production schedule. Its cars were supposed to launch late last year. Instead, there is a standing plan to debut them sometime this year, but a date hasn’t been pinned down. Management was very open about the fact that money was the major hurdle standing in the way of progress.
Things looks promising for the company early on, especially when it landed $24 million in funding from prestigious investors Google.org and Idealab in July 2008. Now it looks like its future may depend on money from the government. While it’s in the middle of raising a new round of private funding it has also applied for loans via the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle program. But things aren’t looking good — most of the funds earmarked for that program have already been locked down by competitors.
While delays are nothing new in the advanced vehicle space — just look at Tesla continually pushing back the Model S’s release — most of the companies Aptera is going up against, particularly the Nissans and General Motors of the world, have the money to weather setbacks. Aptera doesn’t.
Running out of runway, with shaky leadership in place, and Fambro already moving on to a new stealthy cleantech enterprise, Aptera could be in real trouble in 2010 — all the while its biggest rivals are poised to release their EV models on the commercial market this year and next.

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