The Bamboo Aptera

Is the Wheego Whip the “Cadillac of neighborhood electric vehicles? enthuses the headline at Wired.


No, because it looks like a fucking teapot.

Leaving aside the general principle, “If a headline ends with a question-mark, the answer is always ‘No'”, it’s kindof an irrelevant question anyway. It’s about as relevant as asking “Is the Model-T the Brewster of Cars”.

No… because the (demographic) market for carriages was rendered irrelevant by the market for cars… and the same thing will apply (I suspect) in turn, for the horseless-carriages we now know and love.

It isn’t about Western consumers. Western consumers are irrelevant… it’s about the massively growing middle class of countries like India, China and possibly various parts of South America. If you’re still designing vehicles for people who can afford $40,000 then you belong to the past.

As an aside, when I was looking for names of famous carriage-makers, I came across this:


Studebaker, who started out making carriages, actually made an electric car slightly over 100 years ago… and while it is a bit teapotty, it isn’t that much more teapotty than the timid offerings that are turning up today.

So. Main-stream car-designers have lost it. Do any of them even drive?

Here are a couple of fundamental truths that they all seem to miss with a studious vengeance:

1) Cars don’t (just) solve a transport problem, they solve a privacy problem.

2) Cars also solve an identity problem – generally where sex meets territoriality.

A car is a piece of territory… and (similarly to the way single people in the west all now sleep in double beds) it is a piece of territory that says “I am big and strong enough to share with a mate”. To sleep in a single bed is infantalising… to drive in a one-seater car? People aren’t going to do it… and that is why the new offering from VW probably isn’t going to catch on:


Not just because it looks like a death-trap which has considerately been designed to double as a coffin, but because your imaginary girlfriend will have to sit behind you (carrying a pot on her head). They hate that. I know.

Go stand at the side of a motorway… preferably one of those ones where there’s a special lane for people who have more than one person in the car… how many of those cars look like teapots? How many cars aren’t using the fast lane because there is only one person in the car?

Think that’s an accident?

It’s not… it’s a deliberate behaviour. Being in the car is the only time an awful lot of people get to be themselves… get to be on their own. They can sing, they can talk to themselves… and so on. Go sit on a London tube in the commute-time (assuming you can sit, which you can’t). What’s the worst thing about being there? It’s being too close to too many other people… and it’s etched into the lines of every single face you see.

So anyway… this is how I see this going. This:

Crossed with this:


ie: favela-chic meets 21st Century design, with echos of the 1920s… but with a radically different business-model because Americans are no longer the market.

Something that says “Sex”. Something that says “21st Century”.

It needs to be

1) Car as Platform. It’s not a finished product, it’s a set of techniques, materials, designs, philosophies that people can adapt to local conditions, using local materials. For this to happen…

2) The individual subsystems need to be de-coupled. It needs to be electric-capable. Pedal-capable. “burning stuff” capable. Increased efficiency means the ability to eliminate entire subsystems… and the ability to do so without rebuilding every single part of the machine is crucial

3) Detachable brain. ie: Your iPhone is the dashboard.

Or your netbook, or whatever. The point is to create a possibility for turning as many problems as possible into software problems… because we’re pretty good at software, and the barriers to entry are very low.

4) It will probably need to be a 3 wheeler to get around laws that favour big corporations.

5) Easily sourceable, swappable parts. I’m talking bicycle wheels. Crap is better. The line of fastest propagation… a bit like the reprap approach – minimum vitamin parts.

And so on.

See also The Maker’s Bill of Rights


There have been some tantalizingly close passes at this… nearly. Almost. We’re gradually inching towards it, but no one that I’m aware of has approached this with anything like direct-intent. Here are a bunch of random examples etc.



Pros: Open-Source
Cons: Looks like a teapot. Lacks phonetic-transparency so you’re going to spend the rest of your life spelling it to people



Australian Student variant.

Pros: Complete elimination of various subsystems, eg: gears, brakes, axels
Cons: looks like a teapot. Also bigger than the doors of the building that it was built inside. Engineering students as well. Bless. I imagine they’ll probably teach that in the second year.

Dutch Recumbent bicycle with electric assist variant.


Pros: Looks pretty cool. Made of bike parts. Electric capable, pedalable
Cons: Single-seater so there’s no room for your imaginary girlfriend, Big invisible sign saying “EAT ME” to trucks etc.

Closer though. The company website has all the hallmarks of a company that’s like, died though. Notices saying “coming soon” from last year don’t bode well.

So there you go. I’ve got to cut this short now because someone’s shouting at me… there are various other examples in varying states of repair. I’m going on about Bamboo Apteras again though, because it’s getting quite close to Lottery Winning Day etc… so I think I’ll take the proceeds of that, and put it into this.. Someone’s got to.

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  1. […] (always “they”) have obviously taken my recent rant about electric cars to heart, and have responded by making a whole load more of them… all a bit improbable if you […]

  2. […] somewhere else has made a teapot car that looks a bit like those Dutch bike ones tow a solar trailer and a windmill, and they’re attempting to go round the world with […]

  3. […] I’ve been talking (in actual reality) about this idea quite a lot recently… which is to say, I’ve been writing emails etc – which is what passes for reality around here. […]

  4. […] car thing particularly interesting on account of being particulary interested the notion of Bamboo Apteras… light-weight, locally-sourced, open-source motors. The VW for for the age of Favela […]

  5. […] I always said that these should be open-source, materials locally-sourced, with de-coupled sub-systems… […]