Green Automaker Gives Its Two Cents About Typ-1

While an army of auto entrepreneurs are pitching pie-in-the-sky gas mileage from their Jetsons-ish cars, Aptera may lead the pack for both space-age design and mileage promises.

Touting a $30,000 electric car that gets in the 120-mile range before needing a charge and a hybrid approaching 300 miles per gallon, Aptera’s three-wheel Typ-1 is a futuristic beast with butterfly doors.

The small company is battling the big guys and the small. General Motors has the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric car that it claims will be on the streets by 2010. The smaller upstart, Tesla Motors’ has the battery-powered Roadster which it claims gets 245 miles on a charge.

But Aptera, Carlsbad, Calif., has a CMO with some serious credentials that include stints with Audi of America, Volkswagen and BMW. Tony Kirton had been out of the auto business since he left BMW of South Africa in 1998, most recently working as a consultant. When he met Aptera CEO Steve Fambro three years ago when Fambro was working on an electric/hybrid that would get gonzo mileage, Kirton thought it was a pretty good idea.

The Typ-1 is projected to go on sale next year and the company is now accepting deposits of $500. This is much higher than the $99 required by SmartUSA, but Kirton said Aptera wants to make sure its prospects are “reasonably serious.” Here’s what else he said:

Brandweek: Is the development of these cars becoming something that could turn into the next tech frenzy? I mean perhaps like the boom in the late 90s?
Tony Kirton: No doubt. Electric, plug-in hybrid and other new energy efficient drive systems for all forms of transport are the next gold rush. [Intel CEO] Andy Grove was quoted as saying ‘The drumbeat of electrical transportation is accelerating like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life.’

BW: In your role as a marketer, does the Typ-1 present any special opportunities?
TK: The visual impact of the Typ-1 on the streets is astonishing. In over 20 years in the automotive business, I never saw a new design that had anything like the immediate and visceral effect that this vehicle has. And once we start answering questions people just become more fascinated. And they are mad as hell about gas prices so they embrace the concept almost without reservation.

BW: W as there any sign of green awareness at that point among your colleagues in 1998 when you left the auto industry?
TK: I was not aware ten years ago of any sense of urgency, either about the need for dramatically better fuel consumption, or the need to design cars that did a lot less damage to the environment. There was discussion on the environment front but nothing bold.

BW: For the Typ-1, is it brand or product that commands center stage?
TK: This is a case where the product commands the stage. The purity of the design and the message of 300 mpg pretty much says it all. From the brand perspective, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to break away from the traditions of automotive industry positioning. We understand deeply that our customers will make this brand. They will own it. And we will do our utmost to respect that at all times.

BW: We see consumer studies every day about people who want to buy green, be environmentally responsible, etc. Does the Typ-1 address these wishes or does it appeal on a more practical, money-conscious level? Will that affect your marketing?
TK: What we are experiencing so far is the combination of values driven interest, styling that really does express the idea of radical efficiency, and the reality of rising gas costs. It’s a pretty good combination for the times. Of course, as gas prices keep rising, the rational benefit of maximum efficiency will be more and more convincing. Having said that, we believe that the emotional appeal of the vehicle and the purity of the concept is what matters most.