Is That Thing A Car?

GM objects to federal loan for futuristic 3-wheeler

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This weekend, the kids and I were enjoying the Solano Stroll — a community parade and street festival in our neck of Northern California — when, right behind the mayor’s convertible, the high school marching band and the stiltwalkers, came a procession of green vehicles: Priuses, Insights, Smart two-seaters, biodiesel buses . . . and then something that looked like a cross between a small airplane and a tricycle.

It’s called the Aptera 2e, a three-wheeled, all-electric two-seater made by a SoCal startup company that claims the vehicle can go 100 miles on a single charge.

But is it a car? Jay Leno thinks so. That’s the question at the center of a dispute among the Aptera folks, the Department of Energy and General Motors.

Aptera, which is ready to begin production next year, has applied for a $75 million loan from the DOE under a program created by Congress to aid development of fuel-efficient cars. The DOE says to be eligible, it’s got to be a four-wheeled vehicle. Aptera says adding a fourth wheel would sabotage the Aptera’s aerodynamic design, one of the keys to its efficiency. As reported by The Wall Street Journal (whose airplane/tricycle description I borrowed), the House has passed a bill to redefine eligibility to include any fully enclosed vehicle that carries two adults and gets at least 75 mpg.

The bill’s still got to clear the Senate and President Obama’s desk. But now General Motors — who, the Journal points out, has applied for $10 billion from the DOE program — is crying foul: "Novelty vehicles are not really the ones that will help the U.S. address the growing concern over U.S. oil consumption," said a GM spokesman.

To which I say two things: The global warming crisis demands that we welcome unconventional ideas from any quarter (the personal computer was also considered a novelty at first). And shut up, GM — in case you’ve forgotten, we own you now.