Futuristic Carmaker Aptera Disputes Internal Rift, Acknowledges Cutbacks

Aptera, the sleek carmaker backed by Google and Idealabs, didn’t respond to my inquiry earlier this week about reports of an internal split in which founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony had left the company. But in an online report published today by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Aptera officials rejected accounts that Fambro and Anthony were ousted in a boardroom showdown.

The company’s status is a keen issue to some 4,000 people, including celebrities Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, and Shaquille O’Neal, who have put down $500 deposits to be the first to buy one of the three-wheel, two-seater vehicles. The Aptera 2e, the company’s first production vehicle, resembles a wingless plane and is expected to cost between $25,000 and $40,000. Aptera is based in Vista, CA, about 30 miles north of San Diego.

Citing a statement issued by Aptera CEO Paul Wilbur, the Union-Tribune says the carmaker had to adjust its production schedule “to align with financing realities.” Instead of producing its first fuel-efficient model in the fall of 2009, as Aptera announced at the beginning of this year, Wilbur says the company will complete its first vehicles in 2010. About 10 of Aptera’s 40 employees have been laid off.

The company, which has raised at least $27.5 million from Google, Idealabs, and other venture investors, is seeking additional funding, according to Popular Mechanics. Aptera says it also intends to resubmit its application for a $75 million loan from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentives Program.

Aptera says co-founders Fambro and Anthony were not asked to leave. Fambro remains on the board, but has taken a leave of absence from the company until next year. Anthony is now the CEO of Flux Power, a startup in the San Diego area that is developing battery-management systems. In another online account published by Popular Mechanics magazine, Fambro also voiced his continuing support for CEO Wilbur.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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