A Sonoma developer plans to assemble futuristic electric vehicles in Santa Rosa in partnership with a Chinese automaker that acquired the prototype from a failed Southern California startup.

"We want to build a niche car, and we want to build it in Santa Rosa," said Rick Deringer, who owns a 100,000-square-foot industrial building in Santa Rosa's historic West Side neighborhood.

Inside his warehouse is a small fleet of sleek Apteras, three-wheeled, two-seat runabouts that look like giant insects or wingless birds.

The plug-in vehicle was developed by Aptera Motors, a startup that ran out of money and closed its doors in December. Its assets were purchased by Jonway Group, a Chinese automaker that also has invested in Santa Rosa-based electric car distributor Zap Jonway.

Zap Jonway isn't part of the Aptera project, said Deringer, who leases part of his westside complex to Zap.

Deringer said Jonway Group will make the aerodynamic Aptera bodies in China and ship them to Santa Rosa, where they'll be fitted with motors, drive trains, batteries and interiors, he said.

The partnership could produce 25,000 cars over the next year, Deringer said. The new company, called ApteraUSA, is aiming for a price point between $25,000 and $30,000.

John O'Dell, who tracks the electric vehicle market for Edmunds.com, said he's skeptical about ApteraUSA's prospects.

"It takes a lot of money to launch a vehicle," he said. Even if ApteraUSA could produce 25,000 vehicles, it's doubtful they'd sell very quickly.

"There's a small market for it," O'Dell said. "It's an awfully radical design. It looks like a Cessna with the tail assembly and wings shaved off."

Still, the Aptera is fun to drive, said O'Dell, who has tested two of the prototypes. "It has a lot of pick-up, and it's a stable design," he said.

The three-wheel Aptera is technically a motorcycle, so it doesn't have to meet the same U.S. safety requirements as a car. Its teardrop-shaped body is made out of a strong, lightweight composite.

The vehicle weighs about 1,700 pounds and gets about 200 equivalent miles per gallon, Deringer said. The original Aptera claimed a range up to 200 miles and top speed of 90 miles per hour.

Deringer said ApteraUSA expects to succeed by combining China's manufacturing scale with U.S. quality control.

"When buyers see the quality, they'll see it's made in America," he said. The company has a list of several thousand people who wanted to buy the vehicle before Aptera Motors shut down, Deringer said.

He wouldn't say how much Jonway Group and other investors have put into the project.

ApteraUSA could have a dozen employees in Santa Rosa by the end of the year and up to 50 when production gears up, Deringer said. He'll open a showroom in Santa Rosa and soon launch a website where customers can place orders, he said.

Deringer owns Odyssey Development, a Sonoma real estate company that has planned an urban "eco-village" in the westside neighborhood where his Aptera project is located.

You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 521-5205 or steve.hart@pressdemocrat.com.