California startup Aptera has purchased a factory for its solar cars — and instead of rolling down an assembly line, the vehicles will be carried from station to station by autonomous robots.
The challenge: In the US, transportation pumps more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than any other sector — even more than industry or electricity. Transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered cars and to electric ones is therefore a key part of combating climate change.
Many people are deterred from buying EVs, though, due to the perceived hassle of charging and affordability — anyone looking to spend less than $30,000 on a new vehicle is going to see far more gas-fueled options than EVs.
The solar car: Aptera’s solar car is designed to address both of these hurdles.
The vehicle is lightweight, with an aerodynamic body and just three wheels. Those design decisions alone make it incredibly energy efficient, minimizing the frequency at which drivers need to charge the EV.
Some Aptera owners could get away with never plugging in, depending on the weather and season, thanks to the solar panels covering the car. If the vehicle is parked in the sun, the panels can provide 40 miles of range per day — enough to meet most people’s daily driving needs.
A highly efficient solar car is no good if no one can afford to buy it, though, so Aptera plans to sell its lowest range model (250 miles) for just $25,900 — and to ensure it can hit that price point, the startup is bringing its efficiency-first mindset into the factory.
On the line: In 2022, Aptera announced that it would be relying on platform-like robots, built by equipment manufacturer RedViking, in its new factory to move its EVs from one station to another during the assembly process.
“These carts are really adaptable over time,” said CEO Chris Anthony. “It’s not the traditional automotive plant that has overhead gantries that you have to install that cost millions and millions of dollars and aren’t very flexible.”
This approach will make it easier to make changes to the manufacturing process in the future and also deal with any snags in production — if there’s a problem with a car, Aptera can just instruct a robot to move it out of the way for special attention.
“For us, it’s really just changing the programming of the robots and how the robots move through the factory,” said Anthony.
Looking ahead: Aptera has already received 25,000 reservations for its solar car, with each prospective buyer putting down a $100 deposit.
Before the end of 2022, it expects to deliver its first pre-production vehicles — those are the models that come after a prototype but before mass-produced vehicles.
It’ll use feedback from those customers to make any final changes to the design before ramping up production, with the lofty goal of producing 600,000 solar cars annually — assuming that consumers can get on board with the three-wheeled design.
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