Over the last year, electric vehicles have been on the rise. ZAP! is one EV company working to put vehicles in consumers' hands and on the road.
Over the past few months, we've seen some criticism from the media, but now you have the chance to hear directly from Gary Starr, co-founder and chairman emeritus of ZAP. Green Home Huddlers from near and far came together to submit and vote on questions for Gary.
Read on to learn about new technologies ZAP is working on, how Starr envisions the US market for electric vehicles, and more.
Q: With recent gas prices going through the roof, it has gotten a lot of average, non-green minded consumers thinking about alternatives to gas powered vehicles. Aside from gas price fluctuations, what do you see as an important catalyst to getting electric vehicles over the hump and more into the mainstream? (by pgallett)
A: Government agencies and large fleet buyers need to stop talking green and start buying and driving green. These groups purchase hundreds of thousands of vehicles every year. Many of these entities could use current vehicles that are produced by ZAP and other companies today. For example over 750,000 gas ATV’s are purchased every year, many by public agencies. Electric ATV’s do the job better without noise or pollution. The majority of university fleets do not have to travel long distances. Estimates are 80% of their current fleets could be electric today. Many government owned vehicles and large corporate campuses could be electric NOW!
One of the prime ways our country got out of the depression of the 1930’s is the government hired millions of workers to build battleships. Why not instead of bailing out Detroit, just start mandating the purchase of electric vehicles for government use? This would create jobs, stimulate the economy, get us off of foreign oil, and make a major dent in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Also this would drive the cost down on motor drive systems and batteries, so that electrics would be on par with all gas vehicles.
Q: What long term role do you think NEVs play in the world market? Are they just transition vehicles to full EVs or do you see them playing a permanent role in a system with vehicles specialized to certain uses (ie, NEVs for the neighborhood but something like a PHEV Prius for the highway in each garage)? (by SVOboy)
A: NEV’s or Low Speed Vehicle (LSV’s) as they are properly defined will always play a role as a niche product. The vehicles ZAP primarily offers are city-speed vehicles. These vehicles are not speed limited. If the EV vehicle can do the job better, that is more cost effective than their gas counterpart, then there will always be a market. For most short trips and many fleet uses, the 100% plug-in electric simply is the better choice.
Q: There's a whole lot of development in battery technology going on. For example, various different types of lithium ion batteries, nanotechnology, and ultracapacitors. Which types of batteries do you at ZAP see as the most promising? (by dana1981)
A: Lithium seems to be the current battery of choice for additional range. Ultracapacitors or supercapacitors could be the dark horse.
Q: Does ZAP have any concept vehicles in the works besides the Alias and ZAP-X, and what's the status of these 2 cars? Are there any plans in the works for any pedal/electric vehicles (similar to the E-Pod which ZAP! had sold an imported enclosed 3-wheel vehicle in 2004)? (combined question by dana1981 and counterstrike)
A: ZAP’s goal is to have vehicles from A-Z for any and every application. When someone walks into a dealership, we want them to walk out with an electric vehicle. To date we have manufactured and shipped over 100,000 EV’s to over 75 countries, and over 800 city Xebra vehicles. Currently we offer electric bike kits, electric bicycles, electric scooters, electric ATVs, electric city vehicles, electric LSVs, electric trucks. We have announced that our goal is to slowly roll out the ZAP Alias in 2009. We are working on other concept vehicles, and we look forward to bringing them to market in the future.
Q: Does ZAP have any plans of using regenerative technology in their vehicles? (Whether regenerative braking or using the front wheel(s) to generate while coasting...) What technology is ZAP focusing on to be competitive in electric vehicles? (combined question by srj0385 and zapatista)
A: Yes on Regen. ZAP also has one the most advanced wheel motor technologies already in production, and is working to increase the size. Currently the Zappy product line has a 350 watt wheel motor, and the ZAPINO has a 3000 watt wheel motor. I think too much emphasis has been put on battery improvements when simple things like wheel motors can bring greater efficiencies to EVs. Nevertheless, ZAP has also been working to develop cost-effective lithium battery systems and is testing a lithium battery pack with an advanced battery management system that has helped the Xebra drive over 150 miles on a single charge. One last note on technology, it will continually improve, but we need to start getting these vehicles in use today so they will help be a catalyst for advanced technologies. For us, the Xebra has been an amazing test bed to try new ideas.
Q: Congratulations on breaking ground on your new facility in Kentucky. It's great to see both jobs and EV manufacturing coming back to the states. Has ZAP decided exactly what this facility will be used for? For example, will it be used to produce the ZAP Alias, and will it be used to manufacture individual components of your vehicles, or focus more for assembly? (by dana1981)
A: This facility is owned by Integrity Manufacturing, a separate company. They are a large manufacturer of steel and aluminum products ranging from military parts to trailers and even railroad cars.
Q: It has been reported that the cost of Kentucky ZAP plant more than doubled from the estimated $84 million to $175. How was this possible? How will you cover the increased cost? Considering that this was before the current economy crisis: has the cost increased even more? Are you still set to have the plant online later in 2009? (by Treehuggybear)
A: Integrity has already received millions in incentives from the State of Kentucky.
Q: I listened to the audio investors pitch on the ZAP web site with much interest in the ZAP-X crossover. In the pitch it is stated that the ZAP-X would be in production in 2010 or 2011. Now, with news that Tesla is having to push back the production time line of its Model S because of the current credit crisis, is ZAP planning to push back (or even cancel) the production launch of the ZAP-X crossover? (by David1388)
A: This was a concept vehicle only. Other partners are looking at the manufacture of this vehicle.
Q: Where do you see Zap in five years? What will happen to your 5 year plan if a major car company produces a fully electric vehicle for mass markets? (by srj0385)
A: There will always be a niche for the EV products that ZAP has produced and is currently producing. Even if GM comes out with a $45,000 plug in volt, ZAP will still have $12,000 Xebras, and $3500 electric scooters. Different markets, different applications. We are beginning to sell our products in South America and the Middle East. Our goal is to offer cost effective EV products. This is why we still offer an all electric bicycle for $500 or a basic kit for $350.
Q: What are some of the challenges you've faced in producing your line of vehicles? How have you overcome them? How has ZAP! been working to recover its image since word of inflated product claims began to float around in the media? (combined question by MagdalenaC and SVOboy)
A: The vehicle business is perhaps the most capital intensive industry there is. It typically takes over $100 Million to bring a highway vehicle to the USA market, and tens of millions to bring other vehicles to market. This is why many foreign manufacturers have stayed away from the USA and even left the USA market. Peugeot, Fiat, Renault, Citroen, etc. are just a few. Also you need to be licensed to do business in all US states, another annual cost. ZAP will continue to do what it is doing. Design, manufacture and sell electric vehicles. Just like in the Presidential Race, false and negative attacks have been circulated throughout the media about the candidates. Everyone is welcome to visit us first hand, and see perhaps the most EVs you will ever see in your life. Anyone is welcome to see why over 15,000 shareholders have joined us, and after much due diligence the conglomerate Al Yousuf Group from Dubai has invested over $5 million and has provided ZAP with a $10 million credit facility. The owner, Mr. Eqbal Al Yousuf, has even agreed to join as Chairman of the Board. During our once-a-month dealer trainings, we always tell our dealers to be conservative. The majority of ZAP owners simply LOVE their EVs (see testimonials).