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Keeping up with the Jetsons

No, this is not the car for a Back to the Future remake. In light of rising gas prices, environmental skeptics’ agreement that gas emissions maybe-sorta-could-actually-be damaging our ecosystem and the lack of real attempts to create fuel-efficient cars in the current automobile market, Steve Fambro of Accelerated Motors (AM) has introduced the Aptera type-1.

As for now, the car remains a prototype. However, with the private funding AM has received, it’s very conceivable that this

vehicle could hit the road in the near future.

Taking ‘gas sipper’to a whole new level.

True, it looks a bit unconventional. Well, perhaps more than a bit. It has only three wheels, no bumper or fender and it looks like some sort of mod flying car you’d see in a Twilight Zone episode from the ’60s predicting what life in this time period would look like.

Before turning away because of its design, try this on for size: AM claims the car will get up to 330 mpg at speeds of 65 miles per hour. That was no typo – the car will get 330 miles per gallon. At average speeds of 55 mph though, the car will get only 230 mpg.

In addition to the fuel efficiency, the Aptera will also be an electric car that can get 150 mpc (miles per charge). In case the driver can’t get to a spot where he or she can charge the car, it converts solar power into usable energy.

More spacious than the average dorm roomThough this car looks like it’d be difficult to fit the driver and a friend, AM anticipates enough storage room for a surfboard, a set of golf clubs and groceries – all at once. The design is crucial to AM’s claims for the car. Fambro, an electrical engineer who previously designed robots for research at San Diego Biotech Illumina, discovered that 70 percent of a car’s energy goes to pushing air out of the way.

Thus aerodynamic design, coupled with the fact that it weighs only 850 pounds, puts that energy to better use.

You may be wondering how the car could possibly weigh only 850 pounds – lopping one wheel off isn’t enough to lighten the load by that much. The namesake behind AM is due to the fact that the entire body of the car is made out of ultra-strong composite materials, namely plastic.

How could a plastic body survive an accident?

Fambro is a step ahead of the game. He’s already subjected the car to rigorous safety tests, including laying the car parts out on the curb and running over them with another car.

“People are surprised – they don’t even bend,” Fambro told BusinessWeek.

The trade-off for fuel efficiency The car has only one cylinder, gets about 12 horsepower and takes around 10 seconds to get from 0-60. Fambro admits that startups for the Aptera will be slow; however, once up to normal speeds the car will be able to easily accelerate to 95 mph, more than enough for highway travel. In addition, once the car has stored enough energy in the ultra-capacitor (not flux capacitor – it’s more energy efficient than the standard batteries used in electric cars) it will automatically switch to electric to save gas.

So, by now you may be giving the Aptera some serious consideration: It will save money (always helpful for college students), uses gas more efficiently, runs on electric when it’s low on gas and doesn’t emit as many chemicals as the average car on the road. Considering all that it does, it seems as if it’d accompany a price tag that only Johnny Depp or Scarlett Johanssen could afford. This isn’t the case.

Fambro not only chose the use of composite materials to create a lighter design, but to save money as well: The plastic materials cost less for production purposes, so the car can be sold at a more reasonable price. AM wants the MSRP to be $20,000 for brand new Apteras – less than the cost of a Honda Accord.

For auto consumers entrenched in the need for horsepower and speed, the Aptera might not be a first pick, but for energy-conscious consumers, its specs leave hybrids like the Toyota Prius in the dust.