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Does ZAP deserve its bad rap?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

In March of 2008, WIRED magazine ran a scathing article about ZAP motor company.  The article detailed the numerous shady management moves and undelivered promises made by the company.  For example, ZAP promised to become a dealer of Smart cars and Obvio gasoline/ethanol flex-fuel vehicles, but failed on both fronts.  It's certainly a fair criticism to say that ZAP has a history of making grandiose promises and failing to live up to them.


On the other hand, the company has a pretty impressive list of products currently available.  They offer 


Among these products, my personal experience is that the recharge-it-all is a very good and useful device to have, the Zapino is a good quality moped, and while the Xebra doesn't have great range (20-25 miles per charge unless you upgrade the battery), it does have a top speed of 35-40 mph, which makes it more popular than neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) with a top speed of 25 mph.  The Xebra is also used by several large companies, including Domino's, UPS, and El Pollo Loco.


Overall you have to admit, although ZAP hasn't delivered on its most promising and ambitious vehicles, that is an impressive product line.


On top of that, ZAP recently broke ground on an electric car factory in Kentucky.  The prototype highway-speed ZAP Alias has been proposed for production at the plant, which will have an initial capacity of producing 300 vehicles per day starting in late 2009, which is roughly when ZAP plans to begin manufacturing the Alias.  So not only is ZAP bringing jobs to the United States to build electric cars here (eliminating concerns about the quality of Chinese-made EVs), but they're one big step closer to making production of a ZAP highway-speed relatively affordable (expected to cost $32,500) electric car a reality.


Considering all these facts, criticisms of ZAP's management and failures to deliver their most highly-touted vehicles are certainly warranted.  However, it's important to give ZAP credit for their accomplishments as well.  Their product line is quite impressive, and willingness to manufacture electric cars in the United States is a promising sign.  It will be very telling if ZAP is able to deliver on its promises regarding the Alias.


How do you guys feel about ZAP?

post #2 of 21

I will admit, as an avid Wired reader, I was heavily swayed by their scathing report.


Zap has definitely left a number of really pissed off people in its wake, but I agree, they have also brought some products to market. I got to see some Zapinos and a Xebra at the Palo Alto EV Rally the other week and while the interior looks a little chintzy, you make a good point that they've built a fully electric NEV with a  20+ mile range and a top speed over 35 mph...not too shabby.


As for the factory - I'll admit I'm still jaded with their history so reports now of 300+ cars/month in 2009 are going to be suspect in my mind until they're further along.


Also, I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of the look of the Alias at least in the current concept pics. And having seen the interior (above) I'd be surprised to see them come out with something so stylized.

post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 

The Xebra can't look fancy for the $11k range.  I don't think that will be a problem for the Alias.

post #4 of 21

I am optimistic about their future for the products they are currently making... but they need to be more realistic on what they can deliver so as to not leave a trail of unhappy partners and customers in their wake.  I would frown on them if they gave electric vehicles a bad rep.


The factory?  Seeing is believing.  Hope they pull it off...

post #5 of 21

Yeah, that WIRED article was pretty painful to read...I really want to have faith that ZAP will deliver but the beating the company took shook that faith.


It is definitely good that they have some vehicles/e-bikes/etc on the road, but I do have concerns about the Alias seeing the pavement.  It helps that they've put up some new footage (see below) but it doesn't put to rest all the whisperings of vaporware.



post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 

Well my feeling on that is that ZAP has already broken ground on this huge manufacturing plant in Kentucky.  What are they going to build there?  To some degree they can build Xebras, but over the next couple years as more long-range highway speed EVs hit the market, the Xebra will be less and less popular.  I don't think they have any choice but to build the Alias there, and hopefully one day the ZAP-X too.

post #7 of 21
Originally Posted by dana1981:

Well my feeling on that is that ZAP has already broken ground on this huge manufacturing plant in Kentucky. 


Yeah, I have to echo SoCalSolar's sentiments...seeing is believing.  That's nice that they broke ground.  That's great in fact.  But I'll feel more optimistic when the factory is up and this point, they could still be building something that could sit empty with a "for rent" sign outside.

post #8 of 21

ZAP is the only one delivering affordable electric cars. The big 3 have been promising this for years.  The big story is  why the only one that acutally is delivering vehicles is the one company that these journalists have attacked.

post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by george:

ZAP is the only one delivering affordable electric cars. The big 3 have been promising this for years.  The big story is  why the only one that acutally is delivering vehicles is the one company that these journalists have attacked.


Well I don't think that's a fair criticism.  There are lots of NEV manufacturers (i.e. ZENN, GEM, Miles, etc.), and Tesla has gotten great press on the Roadster.


Criticisms of ZAP are warranted, but like I said, it's also important to note their successes.

Edited by dana1981 - Fri, 26 Sep 2008 22:29:26 UTC
post #10 of 21

The Xebra definitely deserves credit.  Despite Zap's past, they have continually improved the Xebra.  Even to the point that if you don't need to go on the interstate, it is the perfect car.  There is even a lithium option now, it is quite expensive, but it can get your range up to 150 miles, Discover lead-acid batteries are another option that get you 40 miles, and they only cost $1800.  The thing about buying the expensive battery upgrades is that if you purchase the solar panel, you get 30% tax credit on the cost of the panel and the batteries!  So it is worth it I think.

The 2008 cars have shown a lot more quality than the 2007, they still have that "made in China" feel as I heard someone say, but for almost half the price of a Prius, I think it is a good alternative to gas and hybrid vehicles.  And they are pretty much the only ones that managed to get around the low speed vehicle regulation that in many states prevents 4-wheeled EVs from being legal on any road over 35mph. (At least the only ones who are affordable...that I know of)  All in due time!  I'm glad Zap was here to make that step to "reincarnate" EVs even if they hit some rough bumps getting there.

Edited by srj0385 - Fri, 03 Oct 2008 19:27:09 GMT
post #11 of 21

  "...ZAP has a history of making grandiose promises and failing to live up to them..." Well I say: what is wrong with reaching for the moon and only ending up on the top of the tree. At least they got off the ground! You go Zap!

post #12 of 21

Hmmm.... I have to say that what passes for journalism these days is very concerning.  The Wired article seems to be strictly an attempt to make ZAP look bad, and it succeeds by and large when readers actually take it as truth and don't investigate for themselves.  With the Internet, things get blown out of proportion by degrees.  For example, the text above says that ZAP failed to sell the Smart Car and Obvio.  Not true.  ZAP did sell over 300 smart cars independently, and had orders for thousands, but had to stop alleging business interference in a lawsuit against Smart.  ZAP invested in OBVIO in Brazil to procure distribution rights for the car.  OBVIO has yet to build the car and ZAP is made out to be the failure?  I work for ZAP and invite anyone interested to visit or test drive our vehicles if they are skeptical.  ~ Alex Campbell

post #13 of 21

Is ZAP worth messing with right now?  Have they got their act together?

post #14 of 21
Thread Starter 

That depends what you mean by 'messing with'.  If you mean buying one of their products, then sure.  They redesigned the 2009 Xebra sedan and people have said it's a significant improvement.   And there's a lot of anticipation to see if they can get the ZAP Alias out this year.

post #15 of 21

 Zap! has tried and tried many years now, patiently and persistently.  That is admirable.   From those 'scrub' bicycle motors years ago to the more recent  Xebra and beyond.  CityEL imported 40 or so in 1993 and chickened out from then on.  I have "had it up to here" getting parts for my disintegrating '93 CityEL; and would seriously consider trading it for a Xebra.  


Zap! has put 3-wheel right out in the registration process.  I had no trouble at all at the DMV or my insurance company- heard the comment a lot "OH! One of those 3-wheel Zap! things"  Made paperwork so easy; all I did was nod my head!

post #16 of 21

Hi all -


Any of you posters owners of any Zap products? I own the 08 Xebra sedan and have had no problems with it, even in frigid Chicago.


I think the car is great for what it's designed to do and therefore, I'm pleased with Zap.


I can drive my kids to school with the car (so it's room for four passengers).


I am a volunteer fireman and get to calls as quickly as my brothers with gas engines, so it moves quickly.


Again, as an owner, I found this car to be the best option for the price and have never looked back!!


I wonder if Wired actually tried the cars ...

post #17 of 21

I don't own one but I get to stare at them all day!  I work for a dealer, and I have to say, the models after this recent redesign are much better.  The Xebras we sold that were actually manufactured in 2007 have come back a few times with problems, usually related to the door seal, or the headlight filling with water, but that is mostly the PK trucks.  The sedan, especially the newer ones are great, remote door locks, larger interior, nice cargo space, etc, and we have not yet had one complaint or problem.  Even the newer trucks are better.  (You'll know which ones are most recent, it will have a three-way switch that allows for heat or air vent, anything that doesn't have the air vent option is off an earlier run)


I think in essence Zap! is worth "messing with." They are learning from their mistakes and always improving.  I'm sure all car companies have issues in their first few years of production, it just comes with the trade.

post #18 of 21
Originally Posted by srj0385:

I think in essence Zap! is worth "messing with." They are learning from their mistakes and always improving.  I'm sure all car companies have issues in their first few years of production, it just comes with the trade.

Yesterday, I followed an ad in Craigslist for an EV in Santa Cruz.  It was for a Zenn, which does not reach many Santa Cruz speed limits.  I have seen both a Xebra and a Gem do an easy 35 mph without any problem, but Zenn is still stuck at 25 mph max.  Zap! has sadly become not easily available here, as it was before that article.  

post #19 of 21

I have been negative toward ZAP in the past and will continue to do so. The reasons: One, I've talked to dealers who have been mislead and are stuck with all of ZAP's quality problems without any recourse. Two, I live 10 miles from this proposed ZAP facility in Kentucky, it looks the same as when I was at the ground breaking. Nothing has been started because they don't have the funds. Three, I have yet to see any safety tests on any of their vehicles. Why is that?

post #20 of 21

I believe currently, it cost $1 billion dollars from beginning of concept up until beginning of production for a new car to be introduced in the United States.  Most of that cost is trying to meet the Safety ratings set forth by the US.  Every electric vehicle for sale today that has 4 wheels is restricted to "Low speed vehicle" classification and is not allowed to go faster than 25 mph because none of them meet crash test ratings set forth by the US for all registered cars.


Zap, wanting to make their market a little broader by exceeding this crawling speed of 25, decided that if they have 3 wheels, then they can be registered as a motorcycle and therefore are not required to have the same safety ratings as cars.  You may think that sounds a bit shady, but think about it, it is much safer than if you were actually on a motorcycle, it has a steel body, seat belts, and is governed at 40mph to make sure that the passengers stay as safe as possible.


No, these Xebras should probably never be driven on the interstate, they are not safe for those high speeds, but they are not legal on the interstate because of their top speed, therefore keeping people as safe as possible within ZAP's financial abilities.


It is near impossible for new companies to get started in such a rough and highly regulated industry, but ZAP stepped up to the challenge and has offered the fastest legal and affordable EV for quite some time (of course this all changes with the new Triac, Aptera, Alias, etc coming to market later this year.  But guess what, those probably won't be as strenuously tested as a normal car either, and will not have airbags, because they all will have 3 wheels and therefore be classified as a motorcycle.)


I realize that ZAP has made their mistakes, but they have been improving their quality control dramatically in the last couple of months and they managed to get past a regulation that has been holding back new EV manufacturer's development.

post #21 of 21
Thread Starter 

Well said, srj.  As for the Kentucky plant, ZAP is essentially leaving its funding and construction up to Integrity Automotive, who ZAP is partering with on the plant.  ZAP already has their China manufacturing, and if the Kentucky plant gets built, then it's a bonus because ZAP can build the Alias there.  If not, they can still manufacture it in China. 


Personally I'd like to see ZAP take a more active role in getting the plant built, but if they did and it failed, all you'd hear is "another ZAP project failure".  At this point you can't blame ZAP for taking a hands-off attitude.  Really no matter what ZAP does, people are going to find a way to criticize them for it.  They've brought some of that on themselves with poor decisions in the past, but nobody wants to give them credit for what they've done right, either.  They have the best product line by far of any EV maker in the world, and people still think they're just scam artists.

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