- aptera, a once bankrupt startup that's raising money for a fresh start, is claiming its forthcoming electric three-wheeler can operate on solar power without ever plugging in to charge.
- every hour it's parked in the sun generates five miles of range, so aptera claims 44 miles of range in a day based on solar charging from the summer sun in san diego.
- users can still plug in the aptera ev, which aptera recently claimed will have a 1000-mile range between charges.
the closest most electric vehicles come to operating without a plug is aftermarket wireless charging pads. but aptera, the company behind the three-wheeled electric vehicle of the same name, is making bolder promises. the latest is a promise that you'll never have to plug your car in, ever, thanks to solar panels and a slippery, aerodynamic design.
there are caveats galore with this claim, of course, with the biggest one being that the car isn't yet ready for test drives, much less customer sales. second, aptera is saying that the hyperefficient trike can get, at most, 44 miles of range from the sun, and that's on a bright southern california day. that's more than the national average (which is 29 miles a day), but still something to consider.
caveats in mind, here's the positive take of the "never charge" aptera. the ev was designed with solar in mind, and it has more than 180 panels that are built into the car's composite structure. for each hour it's parked in the sun, it generates more than five miles of range. that means each sunny hour puts around half a kilowatt-hour into the battery, since aptera says that it take around 3.0 kwh of electricity to drive 30 miles.
aptera says this feature is standard and that it hopes to begin shipping vehicles to customers before the end of next year (pricing is yet to be announced, so that's another caveat). of course, the aptera can still plug in like a standard ev, and the version with the largest battery pack can go more than 1000 miles between charges.
solar has always been a part of the aptera design, well before the recent rebirth. back in 2007, for example, aptera prototypes had enough solar panels on the roof to run the ventilation system, keeping the car cool when parked in the sun. thanks to a decade's worth of improvements to solar technology, the sun can power more than just the hvac system. toyota offered a similar cooling system, the solar panel roof option, on the third generation of its popular hybrid, the toyota prius. the japanese automaker is now testing improved solar panels that can generate enough power to drive the prius up to 27 miles each day.
the technology behind solar-powered cars is advancing rapidly enough that it is attracting other new players to test the waters, like lightyear and sono motors.
car and driver spoke with aptera ceo chris anthony about the technology behind the never charge ev and just how big a deal this could be.
c/d: how difficult was it to make the aptera work as a "never charge" vehicle?
anthony: it certainly wasn't easy. we wanted to launch with this system as part of our story, but it took a while to develop and fully test in real-world conditions. the hardest part about on-vehicle solar is that you are not building a flat panel that you can angle correctly to the sun at all times. we basically have five curved solar panels that will never all be perfectly aligned for solar capture. so, modeling that correctly was difficult for our initial analysis. but the national renewable energy labs has a great open data set for solar yield by panel position at any location in the world. this gave us a great start and allowed us to fully engineer the system out. then we built out our actual solar package for the vehicle that set all the cells at their proper angles and positions to field test for things like shadowing in the late-day sun and such. and with over 1000 hours of field testing, we now have solid real-world data that meshes nicely with our early modeling. and all this added up to a system that can charge back to the aptera at a rate of about 4.4 kwh per day in the summer san diego sun. this will take you about 44 miles.
what technological advances did you have to add to the car to make this possible?
the biggest is cells that can bend to conform to our unique body shape. in our previous efforts with solar, the cells were too brittle to place on most of the body without cracking. we tried early flexible solar cells, but their yield was less than half of the crystalline cells. through work with solar cell manufacturers, we've now been able to access cells that are flexible enough for our needs and still produce power at 24 percent efficiency. this is really what enabled us to make this never charge system something can meet the driving needs of most drivers today.
how many people do you think will actually use their aptera evs as never charge vehicles, and how many will be more traditional and plug in regularly?
the stats show us that the majority of drivers stay under 30 miles per day. so, we hope that most people will be able to make this system work with their lifestyle, as it is the most efficient way to get power into their vehicle. any power produced outside the vehicle will have transmission and conversion losses associated with getting that power back into your battery pack. but the solar on the aptera produces power that goes straight back into the battery pack. this direct system is the most environmentally friendly way to power your vehicle by far.
for those who don't have all their driving needs meet by the system, charging once or twice a year is much easier than charging every day. this system will save people time along with providing free power from the sun. and who wants to plug things in anyway?
do you think you'll ever make an aptera that doesn't even have a charge port?
you will always need a backup plug of some kind for emergencies or odd occasions. but we are working on touchless charging interfaces already, and we may have attachments to those which are not as easy as todays plugs but get the job done in a pinch.
most electric vehicles require massive current to get good charge rates, but a standard 110-volt outlet, where you'd charge your cellphone, charges the aptera at 13 miles per hour. so our touchless interface does not need to be a system that conducts a lot of electricity, which can be dangerous and produce a lot of heat if designed incorrectly. we can charge with things like the detachable magnet cords you see for phones and laptops nowadays. this opens up a whole new world of ways that we can drive over or on to charging devices that the driver never has to touch when they get out of their aptera. they just park and walk away and it all just works.
does it? would be great if it works out, and we'll be watching.