For the last 7-8 years, I have been commuting to and from work in an EREV (extended range EV). First, with a Chevy Volt, and now with a Cadillac ELR. Most commonly they are known as (PHEVs) or plug-in hybrids. And they take me about 35-50 miles a day purely using electrical power, which I recharge back to full at home overnight. These EREV cars also have a gas engine that works as a backup generator, for when you want to drive further than the EV range alone allows.
What if you could have an EV that could drive that 40 miles a day off of power generated from onboard solar panels, just by being parked out in the sun? And then have a battery that could store that power, and also take you as far as 1000 miles on a single charge. Well, that is exactly what the Aptera EV is designed to do.
The challenges of having a practical and usable EV that is powered using the sun are that solar panels need a lot of surface area, and time to generate any kind of usable electricity. Also many EVs are not efficient enough to run for very long using that relatively small amount of electricity produced.
So even though a huge SUV like the EV Hummer may have a big roof to mount a lot of solar panels, it’s 9,000lb weight, big/wide tires, and brick-wall aerodynamics, mean that it is not going to get very far being powered by the sun alone.
Aptera’s onboard solar panels should be able to produce around 700 Watts of electricity an hour on a sunny day when sitting. And to get any real driving capability from that power, the Aptera needs to be VERY efficient. It has in-wheel, 50kW electric motors (Two for FWD or 3 for AWD), a lightweight composite body shell, and superior aerodynamics (0.13 coefficient of drag) that all adds up to the Aptera being able to drive 10 miles for every kWh of electricity. Which is what will enable the Aptera to go as far as 40+ miles each day just off of electricity generated from the sun. Imagine getting over 10,000 miles a year from free solar power. The Aptera will weigh between 816kg-998kg (1800-2200lbs) depending on the battery. The base traction battery is 25kWh, with 40-60-100kWh sizes available, providing 250, 400, 600, and 1,000 miles (1,609km) of EV range.
Jason Fenske from the Engineering Explained YouTube channel shows the math involved with trying to have a car that runs on solar power, and he specifically does the math for the Aptera to determine if it really can be a practical and usable solar powered vehicle.
Aptera is not the only company who plans to build a solar powered electric vehicle. The Lightyear One from the Netherlands is also designed to be solar powered, but it is a larger vehicle, seating 5 people and having 4 wheels. Like the Aptera, the Lightyear One is also optimizing great aerodynamics with a drag coefficient of Cd=0.20, and having a lightweight body and chassis (for an EV) of 1,300 kg (2,866 lb), and it also plans to use in-wheel electric motors to optimize driveline packaging and efficiency. It’s 80kWh traction battery is supposed to provide up to 450 miles (724km) of range. They are planning to start shipping the Lightyear One later this year at a whopping price of $185K!
A more affordable solar EV which was designed in Germany and has plans to be built in Sweden is the Sono Sion, which is a 5-passenger, 4-door, 4-wheel, RWD, small crossover, whose boxy body is covered all over with solar panels. It has a 120 kW (161 hp) motor, and 35kWh traction battery, a weight of 1,400 kg (3,086 lb), and a driving range of 250km(160 mi). The Sion has 7.5 square metres (81 sq ft) of solar panels, achieving between 10-34 km (6-21 miles) a day in solar powered EV range. The Sion is supposed to start production in 2023 with a starting price around $30K.
The Aptera should start limited production later this year, and the base, 250 mile version starts at $25,900, with the 1,000 mile capable version starting at $44,900.
Personally, I preordered the 400 mile Aptera, which starts at $29,800, and I added a 3rd motor (AWD) for a sub-4 second 0-60MPH capability, and added the “Never Charge” (40 mi) solar package for $900 more. The base solar roof is included in the base model’s price, and it provides up to 16 miles of range. I am hoping to get mine around this time next year.
If you are interested in putting in a pre-order for an Aptera, you can save $30 off of the $100 pre-order price by clicking on my referral link here.
You can also see my previous Aptera solar EV article, comparing it to the original (2008) Tesla Roadster.
Related new Aptera video:
Dean McManis is an electric vehicle advocate and an instructional technology specialist at Cupertino Union School District. He lives in San Francisco Bay Area and frequently reports EV stories at Torque News. Dean can be reached on LinkedIn.