California Startup Carmakers, Aptera and Zap, Finalists in Automotive X Prize

7/29/10Follow @bvbigelow

And then there were nine. What began in April as a field of 136 experimental cars and 111 teams with their eyes on the $10 million Automotive X Prize has been winnowed to just nine cars and seven teams. Track testing was completed Tuesday at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI.

The nine finalists for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize include the Aptera 2e from Aptera Motors of Carlsbad, CA, and the Alias, developed by Zap of Santa Rosa, CA. Both California cars are battery-powered, three-wheeled, all-electric vehicles (EVs) that are competing in the alternative classification for “side-by-side” vehicles, that is, vehicles in which the driver and a passenger sit side-by-side.

“There are only five cars left in our class,” Aptera Chief Engineer Tom Reichenbach told me by telephone yesterday. Reichenbach, who joined Aptera in 2008 after 27 years with the Ford Motor Co., said he felt “tired,” but also “really good” about reaching the finals.

Aptera 2e

Aptera 2e

Finalists in two categories—the mainstream vehicle and alternative vehicle classes—now move onto a final, technical validation phase in which each car will undergo dynamometer testing under controlled laboratory conditions at Argonne National Lab facilities. The technical validation is intended to verify the numbers that each team has calculated for their vehicles in terms of aerodynamic efficiency, emissions, and performance requirements.

Zap Alias

Zap Alias

Reichenbach tells me that Aptera’s numbers “are the best” in the alternative class. The contest was conceived to encourage the development of cars that could get at least 100 miles per gallon of gasoline, or the energy equivalent of that. The all-electric Aptera 2e gets the equivalent of 160 miles per gallon under “urban” conditions, and 196 mpg-e under highway driving conditions, according to Reichenbach.

Choosing a winner, though, is a … Next Page »

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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