I just finished reading an article in the New York Times about the new Ford Fusion Hybrid. I am not sure what aggravates me more: Ford, the company that invented the automobile over 100 years ago touting their new hybrid that gets 39 MPG over all, or the “legitimate press” perpetuating the idea that a car with a milage rating at that level is desirable. Think people! The automobile is over 100 years old! Why are we stuck in this black hole where innovation is concerned? The greed-heads in Detroit are the problem. Retooling costs money. If you retool it cuts into profit margins and we all know what that means… no new executive jet for the CEO this quarter. Yeah, I know Gulf Streams are not on the minds of the beleaguered auto executives right now, but that is the way it was for years and it is why we are in the mess we are in now. And the fact that our news papers are still spewing the party line only reminds me Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

100 years of improvements to styling shoe boxes doesn’t cut it anymore. And for everyone out there that thinks they will look silly driving a car like the Aptera because it doesn’t look like your idea of what a car should look like (shoe box) you are behind the curve and throwing fuel on the already burning Rome that Detroit has become.

I am starting this post with yet another apology. I am about to say some things that are my OPINION and not necessarily fact. So please do the research on your own and form your own opinions. Don’t let me pollute your thinking. First I would like to apologize to Robert Q. Riley for the things I am about to say about his car the XR3. I am going to be critical regarding a couple of features that I find troubling. I probably would have never mentioned the XR3 in this blog, except that I feel a need to comment on the less than complementary statements made about the Aptera in a recent post in Fast Company. That said, my comments about the XR3 later in this article are actually meant to be more about constructive criticism than they are to be about vengeance.  My statements about the XR3 will be about the things I would like to see changed in the vehicle. In my opinion, if they are made, I think the XR3 would be an even stronger contender to the Aptera.

I don’t like destructive criticism. I find little use for it. The article I read about the XR3, in Fast Company by Kit Eaton, needlessly dragged the Aptera into the article. It seemed more mean spirited than informative. Kit Eaton used the words, “geeky”, “awkward”, and “odd” to describe the Aptera. He has every right to do so. It is after all his opinion… I think. To me, it seems very strange that Eaton felt compelled to throw the Aptera into the article about the XR3. What purpose did it serve to draw comparisons between these two cars? It doesn’t seem to be needed at this time since neither are really on the market. Most people that stumbled upon his article probably never heard of the Aptera nor the XR3 before they read about them in Eaton’s piece. I wonder how many people were driven to the Aptera web site by his article and sold on the looks of the Aptera over the XR3? To that end, Eaton’s article was like an outline for a larger article. An article that should take place in a future time when both car companies are going head to head after both of them have sold a few hundred thousand and both have developed a fan base of drivers.

As for the XR3 it self, it has a fantastic rear end. The publicity shot of the car shows the rear of the car and not the front. That seemed strange to me at first until I found a front end shot. The front of the car has looks of a classic race car with the exception of the giant black nose on the hood. My honest first thought when I saw it was that it looked like a proboscis monkey. I am not being mean; that is really what I thought! If there must be a raised area on the top of the XR3 Mr. Riley, can’t it be more rounded like that of a classic Corvette?

The only other feature I found to be a problem for me was the way the car opened up for the driver and passenger to enter and exit the vehicle. For someone (me) who always loved science fiction, I love the look of this car… in the sun. I don’t think I would be so inclined to like it on a Midwestern day when the rain is pouring down, “in sheets” as they say. The design as I see it in the photo looks as though there is no rain protection for the interior when you pop the hatch. And, unless you have lived at least one season in a Midwestern winter, you may not realize that on days when the weather is right, snow may poor down and melt just enough on a car to leave a layer of ice that fills all of the jams. After you scrape the snow off you then have to deal with door jams that are frozen shut on both sides of the car. This design looks like it could be a potential nightmare in such weather. I find it annoying enough to have to beat the jam with my fist to get the door open. I think I could find a special level of anger at a hatch that covers a large portion of the surface of the vehicle being frozen shut. That said I think that the XR3 has a great amount of potential and I look forward to seeing the final product.

I was disappointed to find out that the average range per charge of the Aptera is 100 miles. The original design which was more complex allowed for a gasoline engine to keep the car on the road even after the battery ran down. I won’t complain about this until I see real world statistics, but I did like the idea of traveling across the country in an Aptera.

Somewhat related to the subject of the all electric Aptera, is the recent announcement that Toshiba has developed a battery that can recharge in about 90 seconds. If you follow the link you will see among other things that Toshiba is going to target the automotive industry to market it to developers of new hybrid and all electric cars. This battery (if placed into mass production) will be a game changer. To my knowledge, Aptera has not announced that they are even looking at these batteries. But what if they did? What if Steve Fambro discovered that he could easily implement them in his current design. Recharging the Aptera in 8 hours with today’s technology is an achievement in and of itself. But what if you could charge the Aptera in about 5 minutes? All the problems of long distance travel start to go away. Early adopters may find it difficult to find an open outlet on the road, but I can see a future where recharging stations will be as plentiful as today’s gas stations. And what about the solar panel on the roof? Could that recharge such a battery array in a way that would allow the car to go further than 100 miles? Could a cluster of battery arrays be arranged in a fashion where the car could run on one battery while the solar panel charged another battery array? If this could be done, it seems reasonable that an automatic switching system could automatically switch to a freshly charged battery when a low voltage is detected. Then the depleted battery could be switched to the charging circuit to charge up again with the solar panel.

Of course, this is all conjecture on my part. What I just described here is akin to a perpetual motion machine which is impossible according to the laws of physics. But then again… We are talking about solar power being combined with a battery that can be recharged in 90 seconds or 5 minutes depending on how you array the things. The power from the panel has to be the equivalent of a 110 volt power outlet… maybe. Maybe 220 volts… Maybe 1.21 Gigawatts. Oh well, I am not on their design team and I am not getting paid to think about this stuff. And if you have to stop every 100 miles for 5 minutes, so what?  I still think if these batteries take off, that our Aptera may just get them in the future.

I took on the name buzzkill about 4 years ago when a once great television network called Tech TV was killed by it’s new owner Comcast. I was angry and felt cheated when they canceled all the great technology shows. I got kicked out of the chat rooms under my original chat name, so I took on the name buzzkill as a symbolic gesture to let people know they were not going to get happy talk out of me. Although I stopped the sort of activities that got me booted by the moderators the first time around, I did maintain a constant level of surliness in my dialogue when speaking of the changes to the network now called G4. The experience was cathartic. I made myself an annoyance. A “troll” if you will. I don’t think I was a true Internet troll in the strictest sense of the word. A true troll creates discourse just for their own entertainment and believe me, I was not entertained. I wanted to kill the buzz the Comcasters were feeling at gaining their latest acquisition because they had destroyed yet another technology network. Like a serial killer looking for similar traits in their victims, they had purchased Jones Intercable in 1998 which operated a network called Mind Extension University or ME/U for short. There were many great programs on that network. Like Tech TV, it entertained and educated. Now both of them have faded to black.

My late mother once said to me that out of everything bad that happens, comes something good. With reference to the above story, the thing that was good for me and many others was that the people that made Tech TV great moved on to start their own IPTV networks like Leo Laporte’s TWIT TV and Kevin Rose’s Revision 3 and Digg. This was great for them and for me because they are now doing their own thing in their own way and they are moving in directions the monolithic network environment would not have allowed them to go.

Speaking of monoliths, how bout’ them Big Three auto makers going down the tubes? If my statement seems callous, forgive me. I don’t relish the thought of tens or hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs. I come from a family where I was at one time expected to be employed at General Motors. Many members of my family worked there. My own brother’s retirement is in jeopardy. No joy there. The heady days of Motown have come to an end as the arrogance of the once proud automakers wring their hands and wonder how it all ended. I can almost hear them now saying, ‘How could this happen? We gave the public everything we told them they wanted!’ I could go on and on about the last 60 years of broken promises that came in the form of prototype concept cars that we really wanted only to be disappointed by their shoe box designs. I could talk about their promises to produce cars with better fuel efficiency and only making incremental progress decade after decade. But what would be the point? That ground has been trampled clean of all signs of life by many others before me so I shall forego those subjects.

So where is the good in all of this evil? If any can be found, it must be in the fact that the demise of the Big Three opens the way for start-up automobile companies like Aptera. Before the demise of the large automakers, I had only a little hope for the Aptera. My reason is that the Big Three have had a long history of smashing the little guy. They effectively killed Tucker Mobile and did everything in their power to beat down Robert Kearns, the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, to name two examples. However, monoliths suffer from one major flaw, which is they are as heavy and hard to maneuver as large stones like the term implies. And, once they have been set upon a down-hill course, very little can be done to stop them and the end is usually catastrophic.

Now that the top of the hill is clearing, the smaller younger kids can play up there while the older bigger kids whine at the bottom while clutching their bruised knees and egos. Aptera is one of the front runners to get up that hill. The bullies aren’t paying attention now and won’t be for some time. Now is the time for Aptera and company to make their move.

I don’t like to think of myself as a quitter. Usually I chip away at something until I finish what I am trying to do unless I find the obstacle is truly too large for my skills. This time however, I find that a year after I started this blog, that I gave up on the Aptera project too soon because I believed that the bureaucracy that exists in government was too large to overcome.

It was about this time last year I became discouraged by an article that appeared in autobloggreen.com. It was brief and to the point. The headline read, “Ohio refuses to license electric 3 wheeled vehicles.” For me that said it all. I was done. I didn’t have the time or resources to fight this battle. I felt that I would get nothing but frustration from the effort when I read the reason behind Ohio’s refusal:

Most states classify three-wheelers as motorcycles, but Ohio adds one more item to their definition of a motorcycle: a saddle. This means that three-wheelers which have a normal “car-like” seat are unregisterable as a car, because they have fewer than four wheels, or a motorcycle. -Source Cleveland Plain Dealer_via, autobbloggreen.com.

The law is an ass! – From Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Well, I suppose that even an ass can change its stripes… ass? stripes? Never mind the metaphor. Because just like the distance runner that gave up the race just a few feet away from the finish line, I missed the victory. One month later this article appeared at www.wsaz.com with the headline, “3-Wheel car approved in Ohio.” I was elated until I found the law in its new form. Here it is from its source:







House Bill 562 made a change in the definition of “Motorcycle”. ORC 4511.01 ( C )    “Motorcycle” means every motor vehicle, other than a tractor, having a SEAT or saddle for the use of the operator and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, including, but not limited to, motor vehicles known as “motor-driven cycle,” “motor scooter,” or “motorcycle” without regard to weight or brake horsepower.

An increasing number of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers are designing a wide variety of vehicles that have three wheels, a bench or bucket seat, a steering wheel, and are enclosed. Some of the new vehicles are gasoline powered and some are electric.  Most of these three-wheel vehicles meet the federal definition of a motorcycle and the federal safety standards. Until now, due to the bench seat, we had not considered titling them or registering them as Motorcycles.

The Title office shall begin on September 23, 2008 to title any three-wheel motor vehicles that meet the federal and the Ohio House Bill 562 definitions, for “motorcycle when presented with proper evidence.

The operators of these vehicles must comply with Ohio’s motor vehicle Laws, including our helmet law. The driver must be properly licensed to operate the vehicle and have a motorcycle license or a motorcycle endorsement on their valid operator’s license, and they must meet Ohio’s financial responsibility laws.

If you have any questions, please contact the Helpdesk and select 3 for Deputy Registrar And Title Support Services, DTS-Title Unit.

Thank you.

Did you catch the part about helmet laws? Here is what the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has to say about helmets:

No person who is under the age of 18 years, or who holds a motorcycle operator’s endorsement or license bearing a “novice,” shall operate a motorcycle on a high-way, or be a passenger on a motorcycle, unless wearing a protective helmet on his or her head, and no other person shall be a passenger on a motorcycle operated by such a person unless similarly wearing a protective helmet. Source- http://www.bmv.ohio.gov/misc/traffic_rules.htm

I was stumped by the whole idea that you had to wear a helmet and have a motorcycle license to drive an enclosed vehicle until I realized that this was a way of rewriting the law without actually creating a new law for a new vehicle type. They have to keep the seemingly strange rules on the books for other 3 wheeled vehicles like ATVs and custom “trikes”; those three wheeled choppers that seem to be popular with the senior citizen motor cycle gang members. I have a feeling though that most officers of the law are going to have common sense enough to understand the “spirit” of the law and not enforce the letter of the law. However, I will have a helmet behind the seat just in case. I think this may be a good excuse to look really scary in a very alien car. Yes! that’s it! I now have a reason to buy that helmet I wanted to get.

Again, this is late in coming, but I thought I would add it in case you missed it elsewhere. Click HERE to see Jay Leno actually drive the Aptera! This is a great video because it shows Jay Leno standing next to the car which should give you a pretty good feel for how large the car is. According to internet sources, Jay Leno is 5′ 11″ tall and he states that the car is roomy once he gets in the driver seat.

Now some of you may be wondering why you should care about Jay Leno driving the Aptera. Well in case you don’t know already, Jay is a car fanatic. Actually his “garage” is really a museum to automotive history that I think gives the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan a run for its money. The link  above will take you directly to the Aptera video at Jay’s website rather than the Aptera website. The reason I linked it there was because the video quality was a little better and you can actually make the video full screen as where I was not able to do so at the Aptera website.

Jay was very kind in reviewing while remaining honest. I don’t think he would have given an endorsement to the vehicle the way he did without really meaning it. While you are at Jay’s site, you should check out all of his other cars. Jay Leno’s Garage is one of the most entertaining websites I have ever gone to and it gave me a whole new appreciation for Jay Leno.

For quite some time now I have been following the progress of the solar power industry. I just got word this morning that Heliovolt, a company that has made many advances in Thin Film solar collectors, has a new man at the helm that they hope will take the company in a more positive direction. What does this mean? Who cares? I know that I don’t care until they actually start production and I can get my hands on the stuff to wrap my house in. However, it is still important from the perspective that this technology actually exists. Unlike standard solar cells, Heliovolt’s product can be printed on to thin metal or glass.

One application I read about was one where you could print (just like a computer printer) the material on windows to be used for skyscrapers. The idea being that the windows could power the building.  If printed on thin gauge aluminum sheets you could easily nail this stuff to the roof of your house. But why stop there? why not print aluminum siding with this material? That would effectively make the whole outside of your home a solar collector.

In thinking about this for my home, I realized that perhaps this product could be applied to the outside of an automobile. An automobile like say… The Aptera? Rather than having one big solar collector on the top of the car, why not print the skin of the Aptera with this solar collecting material? I think by doing that you would increase the solar collection efficiency quite a bit especially if the sun is at a low angle in the morning or evening hours.

Not being expert on this new material I have to say that I may be wrong about being able to print solar collection material on the body of the of the Aptera so don’t get your hopes up at my, “What if” statements. None the less, it is food for thought.