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Futuristic electric vehicle to be built in Santa Rosa

  • A prototype of a futuristic automobile by Aptera, that will be assembled in Santa Rosa, Friday May 11, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

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."

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