[caption id="attachment_53780" align="alignnone" width="448" caption="Rick Deringer is consulting with Aptera USA on bringing 5,000 Aptera 2 model electric cars to Santa Rosa for final assembly by late 2012."][/caption]
SANTA ROSA -- A Chinese vehicle manufacturer recently purchased the Aptera electric roadster project, which underwent a highly visible shutdown in December amid a cash crunch, and has moved it to Santa Rosa with plans to start assembling thousands of the futuristic-looking vehicles locally by year-end.
[caption id="attachment_53779" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The rough four-wheel Aptera prototype"][/caption]
Zhejiang Jonway Group, a major investor in 17-year-old Santa Rosa-based electric vehicle maker Zap Jonway, purchased the intellectual property of Carlsbad-based Aptera from creditors in April and plans to start mass production of the Aptera 2e three-wheeled sports car in Jonway's 2.6 million-square-foot plant south of Shanghai in weeks, according to a representative for the group involved with setting up the new venture, Aptera USA, Inc. The purchase price wasn't disclosed.
Aptera USA plans to bring the first 5,000 to 10,000 chassis to Santa Rosa late this year for final assembly of interior enhancements such as seats and high-tech electronics and quality-control inspection. Intially, the drivetrain would be installed by Indiana-based electric motor maker Remy in Southern California, though plans call for eventually shipping the drivetrains to Santa Rosa for assembly.
The 30,000-square-foot Santa Rosa assembly plant at 8 W. Ninth St. will employ 15 to 25 initially.
[caption id="attachment_53778" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The composite frame for the Aptera 2 model is stronger and lighter-weight than comparable metal auto frames."][/caption]
The first Chinese-built Aptera vehicles are set to be on sale in early 2013 for $20,000 to $25,000, according to Zhejiang Jonway Group representative Rick Deringer, who at one time advised Zap Jonway on real estate matters and whose Odyssey Development company leases the assembly space to Zap Jonway.
The Aptera website (www.aptera.com) is set for a revamp as Aptera USA (www.apterausa.com) in May and is supposed to be taking pre-orders for vehicles in 30 days, according to Mr. Deringer.
Also part of the acquisition was a list of nearly 60,000 people interested in buying an Aptera, including 2,000 who had given a $500 deposit for first dibs on a vehicle.
That pre-order reservation figure was about 5,000 at one point, before the Aptera Motors started offering refunds as the production schedule stretched longer, according to former Aptera Chief Marketing Officer Marques McCammon. His San Diego-based marketing and public relations firm, Nstig8, is in discussions with Aptera USA about managing marketing of the vehicle.
"I'm happy Aptera was able to be sold to a new group of investors who are able to take the business forward," Mr. McCammon said.
[caption id="attachment_53777" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Aptera 2 prototypes in the 30,000-square-foot planned assembly plant in Santa Rosa"][/caption]
Several Aptera prototypes recently rolled off trucks at a 30,000-square-foot central Santa Rosa industrial building. A set of the 28 molds that make up the Aptera 2 frame is en route to China and another set could be ordered soon from the Detroit design firm, according to Mr. Deringer.
The first set is capable of making 5,000 composite frames. One of the Zhejiang Jonway Group companies makes manufacturing molds and is expected to produce metal molds capable of production of up to 50,000 vehicles a year, but production likely will be limited to 25,000, according to Mr. Deringer. Key markets for the futuristic-looking vehicle are thought to be Asia and Europe, and some urban clusters of high-tech workers in the U.S.