`Green’ light

Car manufacturers across the globe are racing to develop vehicles that conserve fuel as an oil crisis reaches deeper into the pockets of daily commuters. Accelerated Motors (AM) is one of those companies.

In 2007, the Oracle reported on the manufacturer’s two-passenger, three-wheeled hybrid car – the Aptera Typ-1. Media coverage of the vehicle was scarce at the time, but with production slated for later this year, the Typ-1 has appeared in USA Today, Popular Mechanics and even a Touchstone Energy Cooperatives commercial.

Although it may not look like it, safety is an integral part of the design of the Typ-1, which is actually classified as a motorcycle. With its three wheels and plastic composite body makeup, the Typ-1 looks like it could be flipped or wiped off the highway, but AM CEO Steve Fambro and the Aptera team designed the vehicle’s roof to exceed rollover strength and its doors to exceed strength requirements for passenger vehicles. Moreover, the use of monocoque construction, in which the outer shell helps provide support, creates a stable response to sudden or dangerous situations on the road.

AM uses simulated crach testing to observe the vehicle’s performance. While this is not a definitive test method, it allows the team to identify what areas need improvement before they start ramming Typ-1 models into walls. Though an entire vehicle has not yet undergone crash testing, the composite parts chosen for the outer shell have individually undergone rigorous safety testing.

The Typ-1 will also showcase an “Eyes Forward” vision system, a safety feature unique to the Aptera. The system consists of a display panel that rests just behind the steering wheel – where the speedometer is found in most vehicles – and allows for 180-degree rear and side sight. This system is intended to enhance situational awareness while allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

When gas approached the $3-a-gallon mark, owning a Prius was economical, but more a statement of environmental awareness than thriftiness. Today, as gas nears $4 a gallon, vehicles like the Aptera leave the Prius in the dust in terms of environmental consciousness as well as economic efficiency. Aptera claims the Typ-1 can achieve 120 miles per charge, or the equivalent of driving from USF Tampa to USF St. Petersburg and back – twice. In 2007, the company claimed their car would have a slow start-up, but would eventually reach 90 mph. Today, AM claims the top speed will exceed 85 mph and go from zero to 60 in under 10 seconds.

Even more remarkable is AM’s estimate that the Typ-1 will easily achieve 300 mpg, or the equivalent of a one-way trip to Tallahassee. With the average 25-mpg vehicle, the same trip takes almost a full tank.

Despite its efficient design, AM did not skimp on the interior. The Typ-1 can comfortably fit two in the front, with enough space for a baby seat in the back. Additionally, it can store 15 bags of groceries, two full-size golf club bags or a couple of seven-foot surfboards.

AM is unable to find a small diesel engine that passes California emissions, so they are opting to use clean, efficient, small gasoline engines that will maintain the Typ-1’s safe emissions. The vehicle’s 120 miles per charge is sufficient for most daily drivers, holding the potential to eliminate gasoline emissions altogether. A solar panel on the roof will be an additional source of energy, though AM has yet to release specific details on this feature. Also, in response to claims that battery decomposition from hybrid vehicles still poses a threat to the environment, AM opted to use safer lithium phosphate batteries.

Overall, the Aptera’s design concept has given environmentalists hope. Once released, the vehicle will cost between $26,900 and $29,900, according to Aptera’s Web site. Nearly 400 potential buyers have paid a $500 refundable reservation to be first in line for the vehicle’s 2008 release.

Unfortunately for Florida residents, the Typ-1, upon its release, will only be available in California, home of its manufacturer. Fambro plans to establish maintenance centers in other states after expanding distribution and working out state regulatory issues. In a statement on the Aptera Web site, Fambro claims AM is “working hard to make the Aptera available to everyone.”

For more information and to see the vehicle in action, visit www.aptera.com.