Google was running a number of Earth-Day related events this entire week. Today, they had a talk and demonstration by Aptera, a startup car company hoping to break into the car business in about a year. I brought along my cell camera and was even lucky enough to get a short ride in the car.
Aptera is planning on building and starting to sell an all-electric car late this year, with hybrid and all-gas versions coming out later. The main innovation these guys are bringing to the car space is a car body that is amazingly efficient. They are using composite materials, the same kinds of things Burt Rutan used to build Space Ship One, to build a very strong but very lightweight body. The body is then shaped to absolutely minimize the drag as the car moves through air. It looks something like an advanced aircraft or maybe a spaceship. A common question they get is "Does it fly?".
They managed to get the weight down to 1,500 lbs, which is less than the super-tiny Honda Insight. The drag decreases were even more amazing. Besides just making it aerodynamic, the design has only 3 wheels. Between the low weight and drag, projects are that the car will get 130 miles per gallon, and one of their initial design's they claimed could get as high as 330 miles per gallon - this was not even a hybrid system, just gasoline. All of these numbers I pulled from wikipedia to make sure I had them right.
What now sounds like a flimsy car is far from it. The composite materials are extremely strong. They said they held a party and had an unpainted car body in the shop. They passed around a sledgehammer and put up a $100 prize to anyone who could dent/scratch or otherwise damage the body and they have yet to pay out. They did all sorts of other tests for safety as well, including crush tests, stopping distance, and standard safety gear like airbags. When riding in it, it felt very responsive, cornered well and accelerated/decelerated quickly without feeling unstable in the least. My guess is that the simple design and super-strong materials meant it was unlikely to need much repair beyond oil/tires unless it got into a serious wreck.
The car seats two pretty comfortably, and has enough cargo room "to fit several surf boards". It has built in GPS, bluetooth interface with cell phones that can give detailed data about the car's performance to the phone, rear camera, and airbags. The above photo shows the accelerator and brake pedals, with cute '+' and '-' symbols on them. The car is clearly meant to be fun.
They say the initial electric-only version will retail between $25,000-$40,000. It has a range of 120 miles, and can recharge in 4 hours from a high-voltage connection (like your washer/dryer) or "overnight" from a standard outlet. I asked the founder if the later gas version would be more or less and he thought it probably would be a bit cheaper even. At 100+ MPG, issues of range wouldn't be much to worry about at all.
All in all, pretty neat. Check it out at Aptera Motors.