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(Note: This expose will be cross-posted at Gas2.org)

How did a woman who the SEC says aided and abetted one of the largest accounting frauds in US history end up as Chief Financial Officer of Aptera Motors?  

It's just one of many questions swirling around what appears to be a meltdown in progress at the beleagured manufacturer of safe, hyper-efficient electric vehicles.  When a business is running smoothly, there are strong incentives for everyone to be a team player and hide any signs of internal strife.  As the rate of layoffs and "vacations" increases, however, so does the potential for leaks.  And sometimes a simple name can take you places you never thought you'd go.

Laura Marion is Aptera's CFO.  By their 'Team' webpage, you'd think that her career in finance began at Specialty Vehicle Acquisition Corp.  Yet she only started work there in 2007.  Where was her "15 years of finance" spent?  From her resume, it appears that since 2006, she hasn't held a single job more than a year.

The reason is that in 2006, Laura Marion was cited by the SEC for her role in one of the largest accounting frauds in US history at Delphi.

Delphi is one of the world's largest automotive parts manufacturers.  According to the SEC complaint, in Q4 2000, employees wrote Marion a handwritten note stating that they had been instructed by a member of senior management to "maximize the financial engineering relating to [precious metals], cores, and batteries."  Over the next several years, Marion edited, reviewed, and drafted documents to present inventory exchanges as sales, grossly overstating the company's profits.  In order to save Delphi's creditors the cost of litigation and in recognition of Delphi's cooperation, the SEC settled out of court with those charged.  Marion paid a $40,000 fine for her role.

How on Earth did such a person end up as Aptera's CFO?  Two words: Paul Wilbur.

---

Paul Wilbur is Aptera's CEO.  A high-price executive selected by talent search agency Heidrick & Struggles and hired in September of 2008 (shortly before Aptera's first scheduled deliveries), Paul was pure Detroit.  This stood in sharp contrast to the more tech-industry style of the existing company.  His background includes running ASC for five years until it went bankrupt, and then running Saleen for one year and leaving shortly before it went bankrupt.

For whatever things he is good at, raising money is not among them.  When Paul took over Aptera, it had raised approximately $30 million and was rapidly expanding.  In the year and a quarter he has been Aptera's CEO, he hasn't raised a dime for the company.  The way he presents it at any point in time, he's always just about to close a deal.  But they never seem to come.

If you ask him why the company hasn't raised money, you'll hear something to the effect of, "It's a tough market."  It is quite true that for most industries, it is a tough market right now. But for electric vehicle companies, not so much.  Coda Automotive, spawned from a manufacturer of poorly-rated neighborhood electric vehicles and several Chinese manufacturers, raised $24m in August.  ZAP, an electric vehicle company that a Wired expose all but called a scam, raised $25m in August.  Tesla Motors, with only one low-volume EV on the road got a $50m investment from Daimler that valued the startup at a staggering estimated $550m -- then in September, they raised $82m more.  Bankrupt Th!nk raised $47m.  Fisker raised $85m.  The list goes on and on.  Talk of 25% of the world's vehicle market being electric in a decade draws out the investors in even the toughest economy.

How could their fundraising possibly be this bad?  One VC and Aptera reservation holder recounts the following:

"Our firm raised capital for a green and clean tech fund and I tried to get Aptera interested by contacting Laura directly. Months later their placement agent contacted us, after we had fully committed the fund. There is a ton of money out there seeking clean tech investments."

---

Shortly after Paul came in, my sources are clear on two things.  One, he stacked the executive team with his people, and two, step by step, everything about the vehicle had to change before a single one could roll out the door.

For over a year, every delay in the vehicle's ship date -- and there have been many -- have been credited to one thing: "the windows don't roll down".  But all of my sources tell me that the company already had a solution as early as February 2008: a split window.  Indeed, the tape outline of a split window can be seen in the background in one picture from the company, while a press rendering of the 2e intended for 2008 production with a split window currently adorns the title bar of the Aptera Forum.

The split window offered major advantages -- not only that it fit into the existing door, but that it also dramatically increased the vehicle's resistance to side impact crash damage.  Rather than a hollow space for the entire pane to slide into, the door could be filled with the same structural reinforcing foam as the rest of the vehicle, giving it over four times the side impact crush resistance the federal government requires for cars.

Wilbur would have none of it.  He found it ugly and was concerned that the "fast food" crowd would be inconvenienced. He even vetoed the idea of releasing with a split window for those who want it and having a later model update for full-rolldown windows for those who don't.

Contrary to the concerns, an Aptera engineer took a prototype to an In-N-Out Burger and ordered a double-double combo with drink.  He simply opened his door and took the food.  Unlike a normal car door, the Aptera's doors open upwards, largely within the wheelbase, and hence are easier to use in tight spaces.

All in all, sources say Paul had 60-80% of the vehicle redesigned, micromanaging the process down to the component level as though he were an engineer.

More concerning, though, is that there seems to be little overlap between the target market for the Aptera 2e and your average fast food eater.  A leading target for ridicule on the Aptera forum is Detroit's obsession with lesser factors of the vehicle ownership, such as cupholders or the stats of the vehicle's consumer electronics hardware.  Yet the Aptera's communications often seemed to focus on just these aspects.  Who is running their marketing operation?

His name is Marques McCammon.

---

Like Laura and Paul, Marques too arrived from the ruins of Saleen.  He replaced Tony Kirton, who once stated, "We understand deeply that our customers will make this brand. They will own it. And we will do our utmost to respect that at all times."  The marketing operation didn't always run smoothly under Tony, but that could be in part because part of his work for the company was as a volunteer.

But if things occasionally didn't run smoothly under Tony, they fell apart under Marques.  Two "monthly" newsletters have been released in the past year.  Three "Daily Charge" blog entries that weren't from the July newsletter were posted in the past six months.  The comments section on the website has been broken for months, despite repeated bug reports.  In fact, the only recent time updates to the website were noticed was a ham-fisted attempt to hide bad news from the site's RSS feed by hard-coding a link to their press release as the only story and removing the code to rotate stories.  Apparently news reports of dwindling cash reserves, boardroom fights, the ouster of the founders, of a staff that has dwindled from around a hundred to closer to twenty are what it takes.

In a recent poll of what Aptera Forum members thought of Marques' communications operation, the results were running 59 to 2 against it.  And of those two, at least one was cast because the person agreed a bad job had been done but they didn't expect a good job.

It's hard to understand why the communication was so bad.  But if the company felt that those with pre-orders weren't worth the time of even a newsletter and that they needed to only focus on investors, they shot themselves in the foot.  At least half a dozen pre-orders, and probably many more, are held by people at VC firms.  Who knows how many could have been potential angel investors.  Like the Tesla Roadster, the vehicle seems to have caught the eye of many in the Silicon Valley tech crowd.  But who would put their money in a company that can't handle a monthly newsletter?

---

When the ax fell the last time around, something was different.  An anonymous employee began liveblogging the blow-by-blow:

"Paul Wilbur has just sacrificed the company to line his own pockets. Crap, I'm crying."

"This is exactly what he did to Saleen. Why did they hire him with a history like that? I'll never understand."

"He's marching around the place like a peacock and firing everyone. The design still needs work to make production numbers. What is he doing?"

"Seems to think suspending operations til govt$$ come in will make him a rich man. So sad for Steve Fambro, he's a great guy being ruined." (Steve Fambro is the company's founder, having reportedly sunk over $100,000 of his own money into the company).

"I'm panicked someone like the Chinese could make an offer and Wilbur would take it just to get rich and move onto destroy the next innovation"

"Management directors in a meeting now. Still waiting for the hatchet to finish falling."

"They've just taken the 1st guy into the office. Mood is certainly somber."

"It looks like they just let Tim Dine go. Wow." (Tim Dine was the Senior Fabrication Engineer and Fabrication Supervisor, someone so dedicated to the cause that he volunteered at Aptera in it's early years)

"Chris Anthony got let go. He'll go back to Epic Wake Boats." (Chris is the company's cofounder)

"Yep, They let go Steve, Anthony and Trisha Fambro. Please make sure everyone knows. & keep an eye on Steve. He'll be back."

In a seldom-seen occasion, Aptera's PR machine swung into overdrive.  Marques wrote, "We needed to reduce our burn rate on anything not associated with getting a production vehicle out the door."  The release included a quote from Steve, stating "Some folks were let go, and since they hadn't seen me around -- they put two and two together and made a fairly large and incorrect assumption".  The article asserts that Chris voluntarily went on to pursue other business interests and Steve is taking vacation to spend more time with his family.

If they were hoping to silence the issue, the release didn't achieve its goal.  Many commenters on the news articles were skeptical.  Andrew wrote, "Marques said the same exact thing last year to the Saleen employees. Top Notch Management Crew over there...".  Bacon117 wrote, "Don't worry Popular Mechanics, my dad has been on vacation since I was 4. It will be ok."  Everywhere the press release was posted, some commenters took the release at its word, but most seemed to consider it a transparent attempt at damage control.

Indeed, PR experts often discount press release quotes from individuals as worthless.  But where does the truth lie?  Without prompting, a source from the Detroit team was quick to dispel rumors of a sellout to the Chinese, pointing out that the company is proud to be American owned and run, and that only the batteries are sourced from China.  But the same source is yet to weigh in on the reports of a close boardroom ouster.

---

The deeper you dig into what has transpired at Aptera in the past year while the company put on its best happy face, the uglier it gets.  Over the coming months, even worse details will continue to leak out.

Will the world ever see an Aptera vehicle hit the streets?  The future looks increasingly hazy.  If Tesla is any guide, their DOE loan application could be half a year away -- if granted at all.  Customers are bailing from their reservations much faster than new reservations are being landed, a fact that the current management is loathe to admit.  The company no longer has its Carlsbad office.  Only time will tell what fate has in store for what's left of Aptera.

Image credits: Aptera Motors, New York Times, Coldwell-Banker

Originally posted to Rei on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 12:53 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Heartbreaking... But I Expected Trouble (9+ / 0-)

      I was getting ready to do a pre-order and asked them if their design could use Better Place battery exchange technology.

      Never got an answer, never made a pre-order.

      RMD

      The Bushiter's Iraq 2004 - 1268 Dead, about 25K Medivacs and 9000 Maimed... It's the Bushiter Way, wasting other people's money and lives. And it's worse now.

      by RedMeatDem on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:58:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've got a pre-order. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        neroden

        Sigh.

        I guess I'll start asking to have that deposit in their escrow account back.

        "The human capacity for goodness makes democracy possible, but it's precisely the human capacity for evil that makes democracy utterly necessary." Gary Dorrien

        by ogre on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 02:28:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  So it's not the unions? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      neroden, jedennis, wilderness voice

      A good business idea doesn't fail because the labor force messed up. It takes managment, or mismanagement, to really drive the car into the ditch.

    •  Who will buy up the designs? (0+ / 0-)

      Th!nk went under, I think, twice, and its owners gave up on it repeatedly, and it's still going, because each time its owners gave up or it went under, someone else bought the company.  Because having a working, highway-capable, road-tested design for an electric car is worth a lot.

      I have to believe that after Aptera goes under the first time, someone will scoop up the designs (and possibly the original designers), and have an out-of-the-box car company which only needs the money to go production scale.

      -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

      by neroden on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 03:17:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You make me want to cry ... (22+ / 0-)

    I don't watch this world as nearly closely as you do.  I hadn't looked at Aptera for awhile ... but have had it in the back of the mind as the 'car in a few years' that I'd really love to have. No wonder my acquaintances on the waiting list haven't gotten cars.

  •  Aw, no (10+ / 0-)

    I was looking forward to that car, and now it's going to be killed by self-serving frauds.

    I suppose there's nothing to do but hope for a boardroom coup, is there?

    "Government is not instituted for the good of the governor, but of the governed; and power is not an advantage, but a burden." --Algernon Sidney

    by James Robinson on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:09:43 PM PST

  •  Sorry to hear that about ZAP. (7+ / 0-)

    I thought their trucks were successful.  Was I wrong?

    As for Aptera, it sounds like doom.  Damn shame.

    This fuck is so bad, other fucks won't cluster with it! Yes, I write songs...

    by Crashing Vor on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:09:56 PM PST

    •  The expose is a good read. (7+ / 0-)

      ZAP has long made Zaptrucks and Xebras, but has equally long promised a whole slate of improved vehicles.  They play up the announcements huge, raise money, split their stock, and then the promised vehicle never shows, leaving their dealers hanging.  It's happened over and over.

    •  Do ya think taht this is all accidental? I'm no (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify, xaxado, Clio2

      conspiratorial type of guy, but this just makes me say woe-aaaah-- somebody is on the take and BIGTIME!  Too freaking bad, but oil and tradition need more than a little nudge to get out of the way.  Thanks for this interesting diary, though.  Best wishes.

      •  Not a coincidence. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney, neroden, xaxado

        This reads like the standard vulture capitalist play by play in the software industry.

        Take a promising company started by geeks and engineers, force a ceo hire, he hires cronies from the last crash, loot 'n burn operation. Suck in a s many rounds of new investors as possible then flee and wait for the next call from the VC's who have sniffed out another mark.

        The biggest threat to America is not communism, it's moving America toward a fascist theocracy... -- Frank Zappa

        by NCrefugee on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 07:48:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Happened to a company I know (0+ / 0-)

          Except that the founders and the big VC people figured it out and managed to kick the CEO out and regain control.

          Professional CEO'ing is a specialized scam operation run by top-notch con artists.

          -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

          by neroden on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 03:18:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Quality reporting, thanks for this. n/t (5+ / 0-)
  •  Greed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, kurt, Lujane, Egalitare

    It conquers all.

    ...the do-dah man once told me you've got to play your hand Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay 'em down.

    by rambler american on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:16:06 PM PST

  •  Let's buy it. I mean it. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, GreyHawk, Lujane, Rei

    Hostile takeover.  All your Aptera belong to DailyKos.

    ". . there will be a temptation . . to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible. My advice . . resist the temptation." - W. Kristol

    by thenekkidtruth on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:21:48 PM PST

    •  I'm in. WTF, all I've been doing with my cash (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Heiuan, thenekkidtruth, xaxado, Clio2, Rei

      lately is trying to get health care, DADT, DOMA, ENDA passed. I've spent as much every month on advertising and campaign "contributions" since the inauguration as I spent on the damn election. The Obama administration wants "bipartisanship" more than actual results. I'm tired of paying and phoning for crumbs.

      I'm tired of spending all my money on "kumbaya", and I'm old. Let me have my mid-life crisis Aptera, not for the environment, just because I'd like to win for once. Hell, I'll drive it to an endangered bluefin tuna sashimi dinner. I'll drag-race a Hummer for pinks.

      How come Rethuglicans win when they win, and when we win, it just means we keep paying and calling?

      All evil needs to succeed is for good people to say "the votes aren't there in the Senate."

      by Jacques on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 01:25:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hey, I've got some capital to invest. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rei

        But I judge companies by their management.  I'd totally be interested in a hostile bid.  However, I haven't looked at the stock structure, the Board structure, or the anti-takeover provisions.  I really have little interest in paying off the crooks.

        There are several techniques for a hostile takeover, but I haven't looked at the Aptera company structure.  It's a tricky business taking months and involving secrecy (because the SEC allows very nasty anti-takeover anti-stockholder actions by Boards of Directors, and you have to move faster than they do).

        -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

        by neroden on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 03:23:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  That really sucks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eztempo, Lujane

    However, I never thought the Aptera car would sell very well due to its appearance and three-wheeled design. I'm sure there are some who like to push the envelope and stand out in a crowd who would probably buy it, but I think a more conventionally-designed and looking electric car would have a better likelihood of success.

  •  Smooth talking parasites (9+ / 0-)

    but they look good and give ya the confident feeling .

    Seen them, fought them, been trampled by them.

    I am not a number, I'm a free man!

    by KenBee on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:35:54 PM PST

  •  well someone brought these people on (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, kurt, Lujane, Bule Betawi, Egalitare

    what were the original investors thinking?

    We don't inherit the world from the past. We borrow it from the future.

    by minorityusa on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 01:42:28 PM PST

  •  At least the Volt is progressing well. (6+ / 0-)

    And the Mitsubishi iMIEV, and many others.

    It sucks to see Aptera go down, but it's just one of many electric vehicles coming to market soon.  Most of which are, frankly, better.

  •  And here I thought this would be about Chrysler (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane

    which was disappointing, especially since they've taken bailout money, but just shows they'll never recover.

    Kind of liked the little water bug. So sad. Lots of start-ups hire "big guns" who only shoot company in the foot.  Sometimes past performance IS indicative of future performance.  Thoughts and prayers with your friends.

  •  Aptera was cute, and certainly would find a niche (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Lujane, Egalitare

    but is basically an enclosed motorcycle that doesn't meet ordinary automotive safety standards -- and isn't required to.

    Beyond the obvious question of why the Saleen people were brought in ---

    Other questions come to mind:

    Did founders get big eyes and start thinking about increasing their potential market?  

    A great niche vehicle can be royally botched by trying to "adjust" it for greater appeal.  On a grand scale, that's what happened to the Space Shuttle, with explosive results.

    Did the prototype expose engineering flaws that had to be addressed?

    Was the design difficult to manufacture efficiently?

    Lots of questions.  I just can't make the Saleen folks make sense.

    Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

    by dinotrac on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:38:50 PM PST

    •  Half right (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreyHawk, Lujane, dinotrac

      It's not required to meet them, but it actually exceeds them by sizeable margins in most regards.  Composites are neat that way.  A reporter nearly knocked his teeth out trying to damage the shell with a sledgehammer.

      As for your other questions, I'm restricted in what I can say:

      1. "Did founders get big eyes and start thinking about increasing their potential market?"  Would I be able to answer that question without letting on which if any founders I know?  Sadly, no.  So I cannot answer that.
      1. Yes.
      1. No.
      1. No.  The process is similar to manufacturing a fiberglass boat.
      1. "I just can't make the Saleen folks make sense."  For reasons I cannot spell out without revealing too much, I cannot give you more information.

      For #1 and #5, you'll have to wait for a later edition of this saga.  The situation on the ground is very fluid right now.

      •  Thanks for your reply. Wish you could say (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Lujane

        more.

        I hope they get it worked out and somebody makes a little money.

        In the big picture, sad cautionary tale that it may be, Aptera doesn't matter that much because somebody will fill the niche if it's really there.

        It's easy to get too excited about neat new ideas, but Aptera represents neat design and engineering more than  breakthroughs -- ditto for Tesla.

        Batteries and engine controls obviously matter, but the basic formula isn't magic: great aerodynamics and low weight == high mpg equivalent.

        I'd still love to see them on the roads.

        Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

        by dinotrac on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 09:15:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Heartbreaking. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        neroden

        Aptera's almost literally in my backyard. I have a pre-order number, a reservation.

        "The human capacity for goodness makes democracy possible, but it's precisely the human capacity for evil that makes democracy utterly necessary." Gary Dorrien

        by ogre on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 02:32:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm pretty sure their DOE loan will (0+ / 0-)

    come through pretty quickly. Give them a break, it's only been two weeks since Congress decided that the Aptera was a car.

  •  The Daimler investment in Tesla was for their (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, Egalitare

    battery pack assembly technology, and they will see some serious ROI.

  •  You forgot to mention ZENN, who forsook (0+ / 0-)

    the market altogether so they could spend all their money on the mythical EEstor technology.

    •  Ah, EEStor (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wilderness voice, Tomsank

      I've had an ongoing exchange with someone who was convinced that advanced ultracaps were going to make batteries obsolete.  Each new EEStor announcement was proof that in six months they'd be churning out product at low low prices.

      Even after I pointed them to several analysis of the EEstor patents, that said the technology there within could not give the power densities being claimed in press releases, my correspondent was sure the PR was right.

      If the several most recent roundup of ultracap news they mailed out, not a mention of EEStor. A number of interesting companies, none of which are suggesting their products are better than batteries in power density. It looks as if Zenn's situation, plus the less than two months for EEStor to deliver commercial product, gave them the long needed wakeup.

  •  Stacking the Company (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Lujane

    Seems like some investors choose to stack the company with people who would run in into the ground while lining their own pockets with inflated wages. Leaving an empty shell of a company ready for a cheap take over. In the age of the Internet, unfortunately it will permanently damage the public image of Aptera making it a dead end. If you put down a deposit, rest assured it will be used to pay for golden parachutes for company executives just weeks before the company goes belly up.

    •  Golden parachutes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brian B, Lujane

      rest assured it will be used to pay for golden parachutes for company executives

      For those unfamiliar with how golden parachutes work, here's some info:

      A golden parachute is an agreement between a company and an employee (usually upper executive) specifying that the employee will receive certain significant benefits if employment is terminated. Sometimes, certain conditions, typically a change in company ownership, must be met, but often the cause of termination is unspecified. These benefits may include severance pay, cash bonuses, stock options, or other benefits. They are designed to reduce perverse incentives - paradoxically (and ironically) they may create them.

      For example, it is fairly easy for a top executive to reduce the price of his/her company's stock - due to information asymmetry. The executive can accelerate accounting of expected expenses, delay accounting of expected revenue, engage in off balance sheet transactions to make the company's profitability appear temporarily poorer, or simply promote and report severely conservative (eg. pessimistic) estimates of future earnings. Such seemingly adverse earnings news will be likely to (at least temporarily) reduce share price. (This is again due to information asymmetries since it is more common for top executives to do everything they can to window dress their company's earnings forecasts).

      A reduced share price makes a company an easier takeover target. When the company gets bought out (or taken private) - at a dramatically lower price - the takeover artist gains a windfall from the former top executive's actions to sureptitiously reduce share price. This can represent 10s of billions of dollars (questionably) transferred from previous shareholders to the takeover artist. The former top executive is then rewarded with a golden handshake for presiding over the firesale that can sometimes be in the 100s of millions of dollars for one or two years of work. (This is nevertheless an excellent bargain for the takeover artist, who will tend to benefit from developing a reputation of being very generous to parting top executives). This is just one example of some of the principal-agent / perverse incentive issues involved with golden parachutes.

      Similar issues occur when a publicly held asset or non-profit organization undergoes privatization. Top executives often reap tremendous monetary benefits when a government owned or non-profit entity is sold to private hands. Just as in the example above, they can facilitate this process by making the entity appear to be in financial crisis - this reduces the sale price (to the profit of the purchaser), and makes non-profits and governments more likely to sell. Ironically, it can also contribute to a public perception that private entities are more efficiently run reinforcing the political will to sell of public assets. Again, due to asymmetric information, policy makers and the general public see a government owned firm that was a financial 'disaster' - miraculously turned around by the private sector (and typically resold) within a few years.

  •  Depressing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane

    I was really hopeful about Aptera.  I too wanted to see this hyper-efficient vehicle on the road, setting the bar for other manufacturers.  

    Just yesterday I was talking to a friend who was singing the praises of the EV-1 he once had.  I suggested he look into the Aptera.  Ugh.

  •  On the other hand, it's not all bad (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    subtropolis

    Here's an article that suggests that the SF bay area may be poised to be the new Detroit. I don't remember if it's noted in the article but we have the large NUMMI auto plant about to close here. Toyota and GM have pulled out of it though there is still an available work force in the short run. I'll be frustrated if it isn't up and running, at least part of it, before long. There's enough capital here to do it.

  •  Why aerodynamics matters (7+ / 0-)

    Instead of commenting on what this story tells us about America's pathological corporate elite and how they've ruined the country in general, I want to clarify why it's important for highway electric cars to have fantastic aerodynamics.

    I've got an equation from a university website that allows an estimate of energy consumption based on the variables of weight, frontal area, drag coefficient, and speed.  A Prius is estimated to use about 250 watt-hours of energy per mile at highway speeds.  I used that equation to show the old GM EV1 managed about 164 watt-hours per mile, which its specifications confirmed.  But right now lithium-ion batteries cost at least 35 cents per watt-hour, and the durable lithium-iron-phosphate versions cost more.  So it is terribly important to reduce weight and drag to get the battery costs to a tolerable level.

    The Aptera was the first car intended for production that claimed an energy consumption of under 100 wh/mile.  At that point, not only do the battery costs fall away, but we have the potential for gas-car performance.  I've found that it's very hard to come up with a combination of variables with that equation to make a feasible car that gets less than 80 wh/mile, so the Aptera is the first car that we can say is about as good as we can ever get.  Further weight reduction runs up against the hard physics of crash testing.  All future improvements will have to be on the battery side.

    The good news is that Nissan-Renault has recently presented the first model for battery leasing that will allow a conventionally-styled, steel electric car to be cost-competitive - in Europe.  The firm claims it can sell the car for the price of a gas-engined car thanks to government subsidies, but the battery must be sold or leased seperately.  That pits the lease cost of a battery against gas costs.  In Western Europe, gas averages $6.50 a gallon, and the battery lease has been reportedly targeted at $140 a month.  So if you use more than 22 gallons a month in Europe, Renault has got a deal for you.

    But to make it happen in the US with sub-$3 gas, you must cut the drag or cut the battery cost in half.  Electric cars have less of an energy edge over gasoline cars at highway speeds, and Americans do a lot of highway driving.

  •  I've seen this so many times: (5+ / 0-)

    as though he were an engineer.

    And it's always the death knell for a company....

    "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

    by rfall on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 10:11:39 PM PST

  •  They need a talent search agency? (11+ / 0-)

    Nobody from the company could have been CEO?

    I love how we have devolved into a medieval caste system where there is a working caste and an executive caste. And never the two shall mix.

    I am an unemployed engineer, and I have seen the same pathology play out time and again.

  •  thanks for the insights (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackGriffen, Clio2

    This sort of thing is very discouraging, for sure. But they won't stop them all. And these dirtbags will not go unnoticed on the west coast.

    I'm looking forward to the next diary, although i presume you're waiting until at least one other person is tossed out.

    I'm too late to rec, btw (saw this through Diary Rescue).

    "They're telling us something we don't understand"
    General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

    by subtropolis on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 10:31:06 PM PST

  •  Fascinating (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clio2

    Depressing but really interesting. Great work.

    Thank goodness for the rescue squad.

  •  Aw crap (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clio2

    I've had this in the back of my mind as my next car (when I can afford to buy a car, that is) for awhile.

    I was really excited by it when my friend first turned me onto it way back when.

    Sucks.

    If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

    by HamillianActor on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 12:05:52 AM PST

  •  You are mistaking politics (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    techno, PhilW, BoxNDox

    for marketing.

    First of all, every prototype with almost no exception has significant delays when it comes to time-to-market.  I can't begin to tell you how often we get pushed to the brink of release just before a supplier can't deliver on time, or a contract manufacturer gets a different result on a test than UL does.  Recently (in my industry) UL has made so many enforcement changes that it's getting much harder to release a product, and the costs are becoming far too significant.  As hard as it might be for many to imagine, UL is, by charging exorbitant fees and permitting larger companies to test their own products, the greatest stumbling block to innovation in America!

    If you want to demonize one CFO, feel free.  There is too much hand-wringing over this topic, everyone wants a villain, a scapegoat to blame when the simple answer (the one many don't want to hear) is the market kills these vehicles.

    Crack open (if you can find one) a World Cars Catalog book from the early 1970's and you'll find dozens of small-volume independently manufactured electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as many made by the big-three and major foreign firms.  Few of them sold more than a few hundred vehicles, if any, and died.  The cost and range limitations made the market for these vehicles far too small for the manufacturers to recover R&D costs, let alone manufacturing.

    We've had quite a few larger volume electrics in recent years.  You got the miserable G-Wiz in the old world, a city car that can not take an impact with anything larger than a mosquito without threatening the safety of passengers.  In the US there was the GEM car (by some weird machinations I actually owned one) that sold pretty well, but was equally flimsy with doors and windows that didn't work properly, cheap batteries that couldn't stand the cold, and overall build quality far worse than anything Detroit has ever festered upon us.  It died not because of anyone pulling the plug, but because of miserable quality.

    On the other hand, you've got the Volt, which will be released to manufacturing in about 9 months.  So far, reviews have been very promising.

    The electric car isn't dead.  When manufacturers can make them profitable, they'll sell.  If you need to find a villain who "killed" them, its the market and profitability, not any individual.

  •  This stuff is HARD (0+ / 0-)

    There seems to be the idea out there that going "green" is mostly a matter of making up our minds to do it.

    Unfortunately, the existing technostructure is the culmination of 10,000 years of human genius, and IT is wrecking the environment.  So going green means that we have to improve on what is taking place.  

    Good luck with that.  I mean, look at what Aptera intends to sell.  It is so far from being a serious automobile, the distance can be measured in light-years.

    No! No! No!  If a serious green car is made, it will be made by folks who already make quality products.  Toyota and Honda come to mind but don't count out the Koreans.

    And geeze! don't get sucked into ridiculous schemes like Aptera.  These sorts of things NEVER work.  Lots of folks get hurt in these schemes--try not to be one of them.

    "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." JKG

    by techno on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 04:56:39 AM PST

    •  Well, since the infrastructre (0+ / 0-)

      required by "serious automobiles" is "wrecking the the environment," maybe something

      so far from being a serious automobile, the distance can be measured in light-years

      is worth consideration. I would suspect a very different definition of a "normal car," plus some lifestyle changes, would do much to "improve on what is taking place."

      Reflect: in a space of 20 years, "serious automobile" for most American families came to mean SUV. People would say that, even though they cared about the environment, they themselves just had to have an SUV just to meet the demands of normal family life. How families got by for the preceding 50 years without SUVs seemed to be a mystery.

      We need a similar change of technology and consciousness in the opposite direction.

      •  Opposite direction? (0+ / 0-)

        You mean cars that are no longer reliable, or safe, or affordable?

        The Aptera is worse than a joke, it is a scheme to defraud.  3-wheeled cars have been tried and rejected over the years because they are dangerous.

        No this is not worth consideration.

        "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." JKG

        by techno on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 07:22:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Erm, no. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Clio2

          There have been very few 3-wheeled cars with the third wheel in the back.  

          And although they are somewhat less stable than similar 4-wheeled cars, they're a lot more stable than a high-center-of-gravity "monster truck".

          -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

          by neroden on Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 03:27:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I mean cars that need not (0+ / 0-)

          accomodate the entire youth soccer team, double as a freight hauler, or (falsely) present the appearance of an armored vehicle.

  •  Ahh yes. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden, wilderness voice

    I worked for a couple companies run by clueless mental midgets in the early 90s.

    Bad economic times seem to put their greed-grabber gene into overdrive.

    Although, in a case of poetic justice, one of 'em lost his big house (2nd or 3rd or 4th) somewhere on the Masst's seaside.

  •  What if Paul Allen or Warren Buffett (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei

    took a shine to one of these innovative e-car companies.  Then the capital would be there to back the R&D and the small companies wouldn't need to rely on greedy promoters for 'leadership'

  •  Aptera Could Make it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden, Rei

    This is either the end or a new beginning or both.  Nice work Karen, I know how much you care about the car.  

    But basically, they've done most of the work on it already.  Someone has to come in, chop off the heads of top management, dilute the current investors, and put in new management.  Expect it.  It is the next step.

    I think that you have to organize the customer base to let whoever is going to come in know that you exist.  Try to be a positive influence for the rebirth process.

    And did I say you're doing a great job?  You're doing a great job.  Perhaps you could organize an aptera customer get together as a first step.

    Best of luck.

  •  Business doing it better yet again. Disaster FTW (0+ / 0-)
  •  NOOOO! (0+ / 0-)

    Why can't Robbin Williams and Ed B. Jr take it over? I'll run it, hell... can't be that hard....

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