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Zap Alias - Looking for the Referent

The freeway-capable 2-passenger Alias has attracted a lot of attention over the past couple of years. The truly sporty ZAP Alias, which owes a debt to Lotus, is easily one of the most eye-catching designs in the world of 3-wheeled EVs that secretly dream of having four wheels.
image from Zap!

by Ross Bonander

Specs:

  • Type: Electric vehicle
  • Class: 2-passenger, 3-wheeled motorcycle
  • Manufacturer: ZAP (Zero Air Pollution)
  • Propulsion system: AC24LS high efficiency, air-cooled, AC induction motor
  • Top Speed: 75 mph
  • Zero-to-60: 7.8 seconds
  • Vehicle range: 100 miles
  • Fuel(s): Electric
  • Battery pack: Lithium-ion
  • Time to full battery recharge: NA
  • Price: $35,000
  • Availability: Late 2010

The says

"Agile, responsive, nimble, exciting and more."

Overview

Santa Rosa, CA-based ZAP has no fewer than six (6) electric vehicles listed on their website, none capable of achieving the break-neck speed of 41 mph with the exception of the Alias. This freeway-capable 2-passenger vehicle has attracted a lot of attention over the past couple of years, in part because ZAP itself has been around for a while, in part because of the sporty design, in part because of ZAP's sorry reputation for delivering on their most promising vehicles.

What we like

The design: The truly sporty ZAP Alias, which owes a debt to Lotus, is easily one of the most eye-catching designs in the world of 3-wheeled EVs that secretly dream of having four wheels. Imagine if it did.

The Dude: ZAP makes NEVs, electric scooters, and an ATV called the Dude. The copy surrounding the Dude electric ATV sounds like an over-confident guy at a job interview for a cowboy: "The Dude climbs hills with ease. The Dude is great for working around ranches. Dude's gnarly man, he's gravy, he hella won't let you down."

What we don't

The vaporware VIP: ZAP may prefer to forget about the ZAP-X Crossover EV, but not me. Scheduled to launch in 2008, the ZAP-X Crossover EV was a marvel of vehicle technology, promising 350 miles on a single lithium-ion battery charge—a charge by the way that required just ten minutes to complete—along with a 0-60 speed of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, all thanks to four wheel hub motors with a total output of, ahem, 644 hp. Alas, the ZAP-X was too far ahead of its time, fated for the vaporware files. I wonder how many people they suckered into that $25,000 reservation deposit?

The delay: Speaking of deposits, is it me or does it seem like ZAP has been taking $1,000 reservations on the Alias since time began? Yet apparently the concept was only introduced in the summer of 2007. The new availability date appears to be December 2009—strike that, their website now claims a late 2010 date, it's like the date's getting pushed back right in front of my eyes—but no one should count on it. That said, they are one of the 43 teams still in the running for the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, and in order to have gotten this far with the Alias, they must be doing something right.

Conclusions

ZAP claims they have delivered 100,000 vehicles to customers in 75 countries since the company was founded in 1994. They also claim to have "one of the only electric vehicle distribution and service dealer networks in existence." Big talk, difficult to prove or validate. In this light, ZAP's sorry reputation regarding the delivery of promising vehicles becomes especially disconcerting because it's nothing short of an automotive bait-and-switch. Sure, ZAP will get ten of their fugliest fleet vehicles on your lot in no time at all, but anything more innovative than a lousy NEV, except some heel-dragging and don't hold your breath.

Really, if ZAP really has delivered that many vehicles, and if they really do have such a sleek distro and dealer network, why is the Alias the best they can do?

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