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Aptera in Need of Wings: Company Refunds All Customer Deposits

Hot on the heels of the meltdown of Green Vehicles, yet another electric vehicle start-up is showing signs that it may not make it to the finish line. Carlsbad, California-based Aptera Motors announced today that it is refunding all customer deposits taken for its unique-looking, 2-seat, 3-wheeled, Aptera 2e electric vehicles. The announcement comes only a few weeks after the company had secured another $2.5 million in funding.

In 2009, Aptera captured headlines and imaginations, as a competitor in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition. The company's model 2e vehicle, with its sleek, aircraft-like design, claimed fuel efficiencies well over the equivalent of 200 miles per gallon, along with an ultra-strong, lightweight, body that would meet Federal safety standards for regular, four-wheeled cars at around $30,000.
Unfortunately, the company has experienced numerous setbacks, and the production dates have repeatedly been pushed back. Although originally scheduled to be delivered in late 2008, production deadlines have been missed and moved back as design changes continued to mount and funds dwindled. In 2010, Aptera was denied $184 million, in U.S. Department of Energy loans. The company re-applied for the DOE loans under a revised bill, but those monies have yet to be awarded. Further production is on hold until enough funding can be secured.

Today's announcement came in the form of an email newsletter, to those who have placed deposits:

...as you know, our path to production has been longer than anticipated, which has complicated our reservation administration to the point that we have decided to return your deposit.The reason for our decision is that the credit card processing system is designed for transactions to be completed in a six-month window. Since most of Aptera’s deposits have been in reserve for more than six months, maintenance of the account has become problematic for our credit card processor and administratively cumbersome for Aptera...we have collectively concluded that the best course of action...is to simply refund all deposits.

Importantly, reservation holder contact information will be moved to our newly created VIP database and used to provide you with exclusive information about future happenings at Aptera. As our production date approaches, we will use the database to direct you to your local retailer so you can be among the first to own an Aptera vehicle.

A few days ago, Green Car Reports received this explanation, from Marques McCammon, Aptera’s Chief Marketing Officer:

The entire reservation process is being reevaluated and revamped. The system was created by the bank to provide protection for consumers' deposits in a secure account that wasn't accessible by the company. At its core this is great, but the account structure presents some administrative issues for the way we service our customers. For example, the system does not respond well to older transactions. This is problematic because most have our customers have been with us for more than a year.

It seems like there has to be more to the current crisis than what Aptera is letting on. The company is basically turning hundreds of guaranteed customers into into some very wary prospects (at best). You must remember that these people are (were?) the company's most hardcore fans, the ones willing to put their money where their tailpipe is! One wonders if it would really be so difficult/costly to come up with a solution, or is there something much worse going on?

Steve Puma

<em><a href="mailto:puma@triplepundit.com">Steve Puma</a> is a sustainable business consultant and writer.

Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from <a href="http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> and a BA in Computer Science from <a href="http://www.cs.rutgers.edu/">Rutgers University</a>. You can learn more about Steve by reading his <a href="http://www.brightpuma.com">blog</a&gt;, or following his<a href="http://twitter.com/stevepuma"&gt; tweets</a>.</em>

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