Aptera postpones launch and asks buyers how serious they are.
Aptera, which had planned to deliver its three-wheeled electric car to customers last month, has now postponed the production launch for almost a year.
Production models of the Aptera 2e (formerly known as Type-1), an all-electric vehicle with a range of 100 miles, were to have been delivered by the end of 2008. The company now says the first production 2e will be completed January 16, but won’t go to a retail customer. Instead, Aptera will build “a small test fleet of…enhanced vehicles,” and now expects to launch volume production in October 2009.
In a recent letter to “Aptera Family Members,” the company cited “a notable disconnect between our product plan and realistic expectations” by its customers. To resolve these issues, it “recruited a team of seasoned professionals from the automotive industry and the California tech sector.”
“We are prudently trying to plan our volume and capacity to assure we do not introduce waste … that could lead us down the unenviable path of some of our industry predecessors.”
The buyer expectations came to light in a survey done a few months earlier, when the company asked its depositors how they actually expected to use the car. One of several issues: Drivers wanted to be able to use drive-through windows at fast-food outlets, which may require adding a window or hatch that opens—even at the cost of a slightly higher drag coefficient. Imagine!
Equally important, Aptera needs to know whether its fans will actually pony up the cash for the ultra-aerodynamic three-wheeler. It has offered pre-launch customers a (voluntary) “Lock-In” proposition: They agree to convert their refundable $500 deposits to firm, non-refundable commitments, in exchange for a new $250 discount. Aptera explains that it needs to forecast first year production volumes accurately—especially “in the face of this challenged economy.”
Funded by Google and IdeaLab, Aptera and the 2e have attracted favorable press and a strong online fan base. But the size of the market for an all-electric three-wheeled car with a 100-mile range—let alone one that looks like a Cessna cabin on wheels—was always debatable.
Like any car company, Aptera is now listening to its customers, and working to project actual paying demand so it knows what to order and what kind of assembly plant it needs. As the letter says, “We are prudently trying to plan our volume and capacity to assure we do not introduce waste … that could lead us down the unenviable path of some of our industry predecessors.”
Given the global economic meltdown, that seems like a smart strategy—if not the only strategy.