My Chat With Aptera (updated a second time)

Update November 18, 2021: I got a response after I sent the link to this article. The full response is below, but to summarize, it said “Dude, you’re asking the wrong people.” Hm. Fair enough. But I have some thoughts on that as well, which I have added to this episode.

Please note there is a second update at the foot of this episode, where all the efforts of Tom and Jess to do their jobs turned out to be futile.

For background, there is a company that is trying to introduce an ultra-light electric vehicle covered with solar panels. I am, without reservation, the exact profile of the financially-secure boomer-hippie driver they are catering to.

I have read all the words on their Web site. For 100 clams I can hold a place in line for the privilege of buying one of these things some time in the future. But not that distant of a future! they plan to start serious production in 2022. Or, at least they planned to. Do they still?

The thing is, we here at Muddled HQ already have more cars than we strictly need. Even before the plague, the times when both cars weren’t in the garage was vanishingly rare. So even if one of our cars is retired, the replacement is more likely to be a workbench than something with wheels. (Although I did see a sweet workbench that was on wheels, so you never really know.)

Here’s the split between me wanting to own something and me very much wanting that thing to exist. Rather than hand them $100 for a place in line, I could simply invest in the company. They make it easy (minimum investment $1000).

So here was a chance to help make this whole thing happen, without ending up with a vehicle I don’t need. I was excited enough to start reading the SEC filings about the offering. Those things require the company to list pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong, and all the ways the board of the company could legally dick you over later.

I’m not an expert on those filings, but the few I’ve perused have all been pretty scary. Investing in an under-capitalized car company is top of the scary heap, however.

But back to my motivation: I want cars like this to exist. If I can pitch in a bit of cash to increase the odds of success (or, prolong failure to improve the chances for the next attempt), I’m willing to consider it. So I kept reading, and eventually I contacted the company with some questions (some formatting lost to WordPress suckyness:

Congratulations on the full-media press release in The Washington Post! I found the coverage exciting but pretty dang credulous.

I am intrigued by this vehicle, and I think the world will be better when something like this is real. Should I ever buy another car, I’d like it to be one like this.

So I’m more of a crazy-eyed hippie investor than a sound financial decider of things. I try to put some of my money into companies that I think should succeed, while worrying less about whether they will. I don’t tell my investment professional about these.

Having said that, and having spent some time with the offering circular, one thing jumps out at me: The circular mentions targets for Q3 and Q4 2021. Perhaps there is an addendum to the circular I lacked the patience to uncover, but it seems like some measurable milestones have passed since that circular was drafted.

Specifically:

• Have the “Betas vehicles” been built?

• How is test validation going?

• Strangely, the Gamma body was due in Q3, and supply chain sorting-out for Q3 and Q4.

• Gamma production in Q4.

It goes on, but you get the idea. I get a feeling that one of the other lessons you learned from Tesla is an optimistic timeline. Falling behind on this schedule is not a blocker to my investing, but I do need to know that the executive level of the company is setting its own expectations realistically.

Also, I’ve seen it a dozen times now, where a startup electric vehicle company comes out with a planned price point and ultimately they just can’t hit it. You don’t need me to go down the list. How is that part of the plan holding up?

Potentially your friend,

Jerry Seeger

The third bullet point was mainly due to me misreading something in the circular, realizing my error, then botching the editing of the question. But those were my questions. Specific, lifted from their own filing, and ripe for the answering. In response, I got this from Jess (Aptera Motors’ Reg A Offering Support):

Hi Jerry,

Thank you for contacting Aptera Motors Investor Support.

Unfortunately, we can only answer questions related to the investment process.

For questions regarding the product, please contact [email protected] so the team can best assist you.

Please let us know if you have any additional questions regarding the offering or investment process & we will be happy to assist!

Best, 

Aptera Motors Investor Support

Huh. If you ask “did you hit your targets?” and the answer is “I can’t discuss that,” you’re not talking to a company that takes transparency with its investors as a core value. It starts to feel more like a company looking for money that doesn’t ask questions, and Wall Street is looking the other way so they’re turning to crowdfunding.

Which sucks. As much as I’d like to see a solar-electric vehicle, I’d also like to see a startup that embraces the true community feel of crowdfunding. But that means you have to treat all those little investors like they matter, like they’re part of something, and that means being ready to tell them the truth.

So I wrote this back:

I hate to be pushy, but I was asking for concrete information about the performance of Aptera and whether it was hitting its goals as a prelude to investing. Granted, that is not the “investment process”, but it is completely normal due diligence. The questions I asked were not product questions.

So I guess, yes, I do have “questions regarding the offering”. Those questions are listed in my original message. I am interested in investing, but I would be an idiot to invest in a startup based on months-old projections that have come and gone without any review.

I am just a small investor, and whether or not I buy in to your company will not make or break you. I get that. But you are courting the small investor, and honestly you should be more ready to answer questions from people who have read the SEC filings. Some of them might be bigger than me.

Jerry Seeger

You will not be surprised to learn that I have not heard back.

Edit to add: After I informed them of this episode, Tom (Aptera Motors’ Reg A Offering Support) sent a reply which just said in much clearer (to me) terms what Jess had said previously:

Hello Jerry, 

Aptera Investor Support has no comment on your blog post. 

Keep in mind we are agents working on behalf of Aptera therefore we don’t have the “insight” on the company you are looking for. You need to contact the Aptera Team directly for questions related to the product which was iterated by the past agent. 

Please let us know if you have any additional questions regarding the offering or investment process & we will be happy to assist!

Best,

Aptera Motors Investor Support

So the tenor of the response was more “we don’t know” than “we don’t want to discuss it”. To be honest, I may have taken the phrase “questions about the product” in the first response too literally – I have questions about the company.

Also I was kind of assuming that as agents working on behalf of Aptera on an investment offering, that questions about company performance would be anticipated and prepared for, and that a process would be in place to unite questions with the people who can answer them.

So it’s clear that Jess and Tom and any other agents working on behalf of Aptera are just doing what they can. But it would have been so much better if the response had been “we can’t answer, but we have forwarded your query to the people who can.” Aptera should anticipate questions like this, and therefore should have a resource allocated for handling them. Then it would be simple to instruct their agents where to redirect questions.

While my ire was certainly misdirected, there is still a gap in this whole process that demonstrates failure by Aptera to embrace the small investor. Still, I hope they succeed.

Another update: I sent a very dry and businesslike message to the address “iterated” by Jess. Just asking for who to talk to about performance against stated milestones. As of November 28, 2021, a full week after sending the inquiry, I have been met with stone cold silence. If I ever do get a response, I’ll add my full query and their full response.

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8 thoughts on “My Chat With Aptera (updated a second time)

  1. Clip on yer “git outta town” shoes and run, run, run from this “investment” opportunity. Or, go ahead and buy stock and make yer life a sad-ending crapshoot as to how soon it becomes worthless paper. Or get clever and use the money to build an electric flivver for yourself. But be aware by the time you meet all the DOT street-legal requirements, you’ll be a ulcer-ridden nervous wreck.
    I agree that we need to get off the fossil-fuel treadmill, but that path is rife with potholes, sinkholes, and hungry ‘gators. Traveler, beware.
    Wife & I are looking this year to build our final (resting?) place: the small home of our dreams on a pond/meadow property to replace a worn-out double-wide energy hog we’ve had rented out for many years now.
    In the interest of energy conservation, WA state has mandated a force energy reduction law that dictates in 20 years all new homes would be 70% more energy efficient than they were in 2006. Sounds easy, but it ain’t. And it’s damned costly this year. Essentially, all thermal (heating) load will come from solar roof panels and heat pumps. Plus all the extra insulation and air-tight home sealing. And on top of all that extra cost, comes the WA state 8.6% sales tax for purchase and installation.
    The net effect, Sparky, is we’re currently experiencing a severe housing crisis in our region, with too few homes being built, apartment leases and home rentals soaring through the roof, and long, costly wait times for permit approvals and financing hurdles.
    That’s just one side of the coin. It’s great to save the environment, but first make sure you got a spot picked out for your eco-friendly tent under the overpass.
    I’ve got a pickup camper that no new pickup can carry, since they all became 4-door SUV bodies with a tiny party-box tacked on the back.
    My camper has a 12V deep cycle lead-acid battery. I use 2 (rare sunny) or 4 (Pacific NW normal) 100-watt panels as needed to power a MPPT charge controller charging that battery for off-grid camping. Now people yell at me to replace that nasty ol’ lead-acid battery with the new lithium-ferrous battery, half the weight, 90% discharge vs. 50% discharge, and a 20-year life. Sounds great, except I can get the old type for $90, and the new type for $900. And in that 20-year life (not yet proven) I can do five replacement changes of the old type for only half of what one of the new type costs. So, where, Sparky, is the economic advantage of that?
    I checked on solar for the domicile roof. Given our monthly bill off the grid, it would take 20 years (!) to break even on the cost of the panel installation. Professional suppliers and installers I’ve asked are honest: “don’t bother; in your case it won’t pay.”
    Okay, now lets talk about yer electric flivver. So we all go to electric vehicles. What do we do with all those worn-out batteries? I’ve seen pictures of third-world kids sitting cross-legged in the dirt, busting the old lead-acid batteries open to reclaim the lead; it’s a damn ugly sight. First-world trash cutting a third-world kid’s life short. What a win for US!
    Second, our grid infrastructure is a grim failure. Our corporations haven’t spent the money to keep it up. So picture sagging powers unable to handle the vehicle charging demand. Most of our generating plants are now burning natural gas. Is that the carbon-free solution you hanker for? With you new electric sedan, bus, or long-haul truck?
    If I seem cynical, it’s because I’ve lived too damn long and heard too damn many balf-faced lies sold to us as gospel writ. I was a fresh-faced kid in grade school here in the PNW when we were told that the new Columbia and Snake River hydroelectric dams were God’s answer to greening the desert; and providing unlimited “free” electric energy. And don’t worry about the salmon runs: government-sanction fish ladders build according to unquestionable scientific studies would protect the salmon runs for future generations.
    Yeh, right.
    Another study by engineers published a few years ago pretty much proved that the English isle wasn’t large enough to hold all the solar and wind generation capacity to replace their energy needs. To satisfy the complete energy demand would require the forbidden answer: new generation nuclear.
    Interestingly, new generation nuclear plant designs were abandoned by the US back in the 1970’s; the technology was eventually made available to China. Guess who now has an entire university and a generation of young nuclear scientists devoted to the new generation of nuclear power designs? And guess who just sold their first complete nuclear generating installation that covers less than two football fields in area, and requires NO polluting water cooling exchange with the environment. If you guess the U.S. put on your dunce cap. When we need to replace all that fossil-fuel energy with clean, non-carbon energy, it will be partly solar, partly wind, partly hydro, partly tidal, and MOSTLY new-generation nuclear. And pray that the price of lithium-ferrous batteries come down while other storage solutions not requiring rare-earth metals come online.
    And please post a picture of yer electric flivver if you get around to building on. And let us know what kind of battery it uses, and how much they cost.
    Cheers!
    (I’m looking forward to being dead & gone by the time all this gets settled.)

    • First, there is a movie we all saw when we were kids, of the bears catching salmon at Kettle Falls. Kettle Falls isn’t there anymore. so we have that to start with. In exchange we got Boeing, the inevitable child of bauxite and cheap electricity.

      As far as the “electric flivver”, the advantage of this one is that it requires only a fraction of the energy – without regard to source – than the other vehicles out there. Also don’t forget that it takes more than twenty miles worth of electricity – off the same grid! – just to get 50 miles worth of gasoline out of the ground. The energy cost of refining is not well-known (it is fueled by by burning off some of the hydrocarbons being refined, and the amount does not have to be reported), but you can bet your double-wide that it’s significant. So while I have stumped in these very pages for the end of the grid, I’m not going let the frailty of the grid inhibit progress.

      And this particular flivver can produce 50 miles worth of energy each day, without plugging in. For regular commuting, I wouldn’t touch the grid at all.

      All that said, I’m pretty sure one reason Aptera won’t answer questions is because it has become clear that they will only ever get approval as a motorcycle, and the licensing and helmet laws will be a setback for their sales. Bumper laws are arbitrary and stupid, but they are the law.

      It was maybe 25 years ago now that I told an earnest GreenPeace canvasser “I prefer the potential disaster of nuclear to the guaranteed disaster of fossil fuels. At least with nuclear we are arguing about where to put the waste.” She tried to present the none-of-the-above argument, but back then, and now, that doesn’t fly.

      The study you cite about England doesn’t make much sense, though. Despite the English weather, if they coated the entire island in solar panels, and put windmills spinning above them, the miserable people living in the shadow would have plenty of electricity, as they starved to death. But they would have a shit-ton of electricity!

      Ultimately, I agree with most everything you said. This episode is about me wanting to make things different — being ready to pay to help make things different — and about the disappointment when it turns out my chance to make things better is just a manipulative pitch by assholes..

      • “All that said, I’m pretty sure one reason Aptera won’t answer questions is because it has become clear that they will only ever get approval as a motorcycle, and the licensing and helmet laws will be a setback for their sales. Bumper laws are arbitrary and stupid, but they are the law.”

        IMPO (in my pompous opinion) the main reason the vehicle has three wheels is to take advantage of any and all “cycle-car” laws that individual states may have. Argue all you want about reduced rolling resistance and the obviation of a rear differential for the rear motor, but there is no way this ultra-light vehicle is going to satisfy the safety standards (crush zones, 2.5 bazillion airbags, automatic stability control [which requires electric power steering no matter how light the car]) a “car” is required to satisfy.

        That said, the California vehicle code contains a legal definition of a three-wheel cyclecar (which, interestingly enough, seems to include any motorcycle with a sidecar), and a driver doesn’t need a motorcycle license to drive one. And thanks to the long-gone Corbin Sparrow, you don’t have to wear a motorcycle helmet in a cyclecar with a fixed roof.

        None of which makes the Aptera more likely to succeed.

        My mind is more blown by my belief that I could buy a Ural sidecar motorcycle and ride the thing in California without proving I have any idea how to control a motorcycle.

        • I stand by my right to be surprised about something I’m sure you’ve told me before. However, it seems like cycle-car licensing would have been prominent in the published information from a California manufacturer of such a car. If I were trying to sell the car, this would be a big bullet point.

          So we can cross off (or at least diminish the importance of) a key licensing issue in some locations. That’s good!

          Very technical side note: for this vehicle differentials would be accomplished with software, since the motors are in the wheels.

          But yeah, even with vehicle licensing aside, the black hole my direct queries fell into is a pretty clear indicator where things are over there. There is no “We hit our milestone!” post. No celebration of victory. Which means the victory didn’t happen. If I had a billion dollars to invest, I might try to make this real. My available pie-in-sky budget falls significantly shy of a billion, however.

  2. Not really relevant to the discussion, but I’d like to add a quick note about the English language: the use of the word “iterated” in the second response, to mean “said.”

    It is the natural result of widespread use of the word “reiterate” to mean “say again.” “Iterate” means to repeat or loop. “Reiterate” means to repeat or loop again. It is more or less a nonsense word, but it is commonly used. So if reiterate is to “say again”, then iterate is redefined to mean “say the first time” — a definition far, far, from the original meaning, but in fact I barely tripped on it when Tom used it above.

    Maybe we should try to change the word to reutterated — to utterate again.

  3. Wow, a lot of thoughts shared here. In California today, Tesla’s are everywhere. as you know Tesla requires charging from a power source. Checking the sources of Power generation in California as of 2020 48% of the power comes from natural gas, I think roughly 30% from renewable sources that includes Hydo electric, a little from oil and a tiny amount from coal. my conclusion: if you own a Tesla, your car is charged by fossil fuel for the most part. you are not helping carbon emissions by owning a tesla unless you have solar on your roof. I digress.
    Aptera offers several Paradigm shifts in autos. 1/4 the drag of a Tesla Model 3 at 60 Miles an hour which reduces the watts per mile required and extending the range by roughly 4x on same battery size. Solar charging 700 watts which in Southern California is roughly free power for the daily commute of under 40 miles.

    a unique composite frameless body of 4 major components that simplifies assembly and reduces weight. I think allowing smaller assembly plants efficient at much lower volume than today’s steel autos. Combined .25 the drag of Tesla and low weight of 1700 lb at 100 miles an hour and range of up to 1,000 miles. This is the definition of paradigm shift.

    additionally, a third motor on the rear wheel and claimed 0-60 in 3.6 seconds. A new corvette cannot beat this. if nothing else the Aptera two seater , 3 wheel drive is the sports car of Electric vehicles. no doubt a niche market, but sizable. Count me in. I you willing to bet Aptera is not a target for acquisition?
    Harold

    • The vehicle seems awesome. As I said above, should I ever buy another car, this fits the exact mold of what I would want to drive.

      But here I’m less interested in owning one of these cars (best option for me is to not own a car at all), and more interested in putting up cold hard cash to invest in the company just to help this vehicle to exist. I’m a believer in the car, but the company is decidedly dicey. The update to the update in this episode is that I sent messages to the people at the provided address with my questions and got back stone cold silence.

      This might be the most beautiful vapor car I’ve ever seen. A real vapor game-changer. But if I can’t get straight answers from the company about whether they are meeting their milestones, that’s the only thing I can conclude. Beautiful vapor.

    • A side note about the electricity – there is a significant electric cost in producing gasoline. In California, we burn natural gas to run the generators to power the pumps to pull up the crude that will, at great carbon cost, be refined into gasoline. The carbon footprint of gasoline vehicles is vastly underestimated. Teslas are profligate and awful, and still only produce a fraction of the carbon per mile, when you take into account all the losses of each energy chain.

      Which is what makes a car with solar panels on it so awesome! I love driving across the long reaches of the Nevada desert; if I planned well and embraced the slow pace of the wide-open spaces, I could crawl across that breathtaking landscape without paying for energy in any form. That would be head-fizzing awesome. 40 miles a day? I can plan through that, and remember how to do landscape photography.

      I want this vehicle to be real. I really do.

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