The 3-Wheeled Aptera May Make a Comeback, But the Company Behind It Has a Rocky Past
Given my fondness for three-wheeled cars, imagine how happy I was to learn that the Aptera 2e electric vehicle may be headed to production after all. Chinese auto manufacturer Zap Jonway bought the molds from the defunct EV hopeful, and is planning to produce a gasoline and electric version both in China as Zaptera, and in the United States under the name Aptera USA. My hopes were soon dashed, however, after doing a bit of footwork looking into Zap Jonway. The short story? Don’t get your hopes up.
Zap Jonway was created after Santa Rosa, CA-based EV contender ZAP purchased a controlling stake in Zhejiang Jonway Automobile Co., Ltd. in 2010; the Chinese manufacturer had only built a Toyota RAV4 knockoff called the UFO prior to the acquisition. ZAP, on the other hand, had a much more troubled past.
According to a Wired article published in 2008, the company has come under fire for multiple reasons over the last decade or so. Allegations all seem to stem from the company’s failure to bring promised vehicles to market, leading on investors and franchisees, and outrageous yearly stock payouts to co-founder Gary Starr and CEO Steven Schneider. Then there was ZAP’s continued claim that they would be the distributor of the smart Fortwo in the US, even after DaimlerChrysler had denied the company rights to sell the microcar.
The list of infractions casts quite a shadow on Zap Jonway, who has also backed the reformed Detroit Electric and their proposed Lotus Elise-based SP:01 EV sports car. Now knowing its parent company’s penchant for failing to produce actual cars, I doubt whether DE can fulfill its promises.
The Aptera 2e, unfortunately, may end repeating up being an extension of ZAP’s failure. The corporate structure of Zap Jonway/Zaptera/Aptera USA is rather maddening, but it’s like this: Zaptera USA, who owns the designs of the old Aptera, will be split into two companies: Zaptera, which will produce the 2e/2g in China, and Aptera USA, who will import the shells from China and install the powertrains in the US, where it will also be sold. The CEO of Aptera USA, Richard Deringer, is attempting to downplay the Zap Jonway connection, telling Gizmag, “We have nothing to do with Zap Jonway. We wish them well in trying to survive, but we don’t want any association with them.”
Electric vehicle manufacturers have had a rocky past, and many simply cannot mass market their autos, whether due to supply-side problems, range difficulties, or public disinterest. I hope the Aptera 2e finally reaches potential car buyers, but with the company currently looking to manufacture it and its disappointing history, I doubt it. Like I said, don’t get your hopes up.