Purring softly through downtown San Francisco, the sleek Aptera 2e looks like a white dolphin, a wingless bird, or the latest Pixar brainchild.
Its two front wheels protrude from the nose like hawk claws, while the lone rear wheel spins beneath the 2e's narrow, horizontal tail as it winds its way through alleyways, past pointing fingers and quizzical faces.
The Aptera, an all-electric two-seater capable of driving 100 miles between recharges, is turning heads as much for its avian appearance as for its energy efficiency. While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and actor Leonardo DiCaprio famously purchased the better-known (and higher priced) Tesla electric car, the Aptera is quickly but quietly amassing its own list of celebrity backers. Actors Robin Williams and Tom Hanks have already expressed interest in getting an Aptera, according to the company, as has the iconic NBA-er, Shaquille O'Neal of the Phoenix Suns. (Aptera officials believe the colossal Shaq may be interested in buying one for a friend or a family member, however.)
Though the Aptera 2e won't be released until this fall, locals will have a chance for a sneak preview Wednesday, when Aptera officials bring the latest prototype to Stanford Shopping Center. But quite a few Bay Area residents have already gotten wind of the new vehicle. The company has received about 4,000 pre-orders from all parts California, said Marques McCammon, the company's chief marketing officer. The areas with the most pre-orders thus far have been San Diego County, where Aptera is based, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco-Silicon Valley area.
The car will only be available in California at first, said Paul Wilbur, the company's president and chief executive officer.
"California gets it," said Wilbur, who worked for Ford and Chrysler in Detroit before heading to Aptera's Vista, Calif., headquarters.
The 2e's bird-like appearance is not a coincidence, Wilbur said. The company tried to make the car "shaped like the wind" by blowing high-speed winds at the prototypes and tinkering with the models to make them more aerodynamic.
Company Founder Steve Fambro is a trained pilot who worked in San Diego's thriving biotech industry before he set his sights on designing an ultra-efficient car with "wingless flight" capabilities, Wilbur said.
"Its aerodynamic form is what makes the car so efficient," said Wilbur, who equated the car's energy-efficiency to getting about 200 miles per gallon.
The result is a car that weighs 1,700 pounds (about half that of the Chevrolet Volt), can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under 10 seconds and can reach 90 mph. And while the pre-order list includes several big names, the company is aiming its creation at the average driver. The Chevy Volt (set for release in 2010) aims for a $40,000 price tag and the Tesla goes for about $50,000 and up, but Wilbur said the Aptera 2e will cost between $25,000 and $40,000.
Wilbur said the company plans to release its hybrid (2h) and gasoline-fueled (2g) models in the middle of 2010. The 2g -- the least fuel efficient of the three -- would get about 100 miles per gallon, Wilbur said.
The Aptera 2e, meanwhile, is scheduled to debut in white later this fall. Other colors, including black, silver and red, would become available next year as production accelerates, McCammon said.
Drivers would be able to recharge the 2e by simply plugging it into a regular electric outlet with an extension cord. A display on the dashboard shows how much battery power is being used and how much power the car has left.
The Aptera 2e will be displayed at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.