The ZAP Alias Electric Car

Nothing happens unless first a dream – Carl Sandberg

ZAP: Then and Now

with 24 comments

A short history of a pioneering company and the development of the Alias.

In order to provide some history of the ZAP Alias entry in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize (PIAXP), one needs to appreciate the origins of ZAP, which is a challenge unto itself since ZAP was founded in 1994, over 15 years ago, making it one of the earliest companies to enter the EV business.  So, please be patient, this could take awhile.

An electric conversion of a Pontiac Fiero by Solar Electric Engineering.

The Solar Electric Engineering Destiny 2000.

ZAP was founded in September 1994 as ZAP Power Systems in Sebastopol, California, a venture started by EV entrepreneur and ZAP PIAXP Team Captain Gary Starr, with his previous experience in electric vehicles, as well as other electric vehicle developers and advocates.  Starr had previous experience with electric cars including Solar Electric Engineering and U.S. Electricar, which is currently known as Enova Systems . Starr was involved in more than 600 electric car conversions between 1989 and 1994 from Ford Escorts, GEO Prizms, Chevy S-10s, Toyota Paseos, S-10 Blazer SUVs, Pontiac Fieros and various kit cars, with sales to Hollywood celebrities, government agencies, military bases, the US Post Office, Ford and GM. He left that venture to start ZAP believing there was a growing opportunity in smaller bicycle and scooter EV designs that could be affordable for a greater number of people.

the ZAP electric bike kit

ZAP's original electric bike kit.

In the summer of 1995, ZAP Power Systems moved into a location in Sebastopol, California to expand manufacturing of electric bicycle systems and integrating them into bicycles built to ZAP’s specifications by various manufacturers.  These products included the ZAP DX and SX bicycle kits as well as the ElectriCruizer, PowerbikeSmith & Wesson Patrol Bike, ZAPTRIKE, and others. ZAP began selling electric kits all over the world, including to Thailand.  ZAP was one of the first to suggest to China manufacturers that they should move away from gas powered bikes and scooters, successfully selling 500 electric bike kits to the largest and oldest bike manufacturer in China, Forever Bicycle.  Although electric bikes at the time were still new, today there are over 100 million on the road in China.  This shows what a seed of pioneering technology can help create.

Zappy the folding electric scooter from ZAP

The ZAPPY folding electric scooter.

After some success with electric bikes, and wanting to expand into larger vehicles, ZAP sought to attract more capital by tapping into the red hot IPO market of the 90s and taking the company public.  In 1996 ZAP launched innovative direct initial public offering in which it managed its own IPO without the retention of an investment banker, virtually unheard of in the investment world.  Today, ZAP has over 15,000 shareholders (stock symbol ZAAP).  This coincided with the release of the innovative ZAPPY® folding electric scooter and thereafter ZAP became internationally known, manufacturing and shipping tens of thousands of electric scooters and bicycles to all corners of the world.

The ZAPPY folding electric scooter appeared in 'Kermit's Swamp Years.'

'Kermit's Swamp Years'

It could be said that ZAP almost became a victim of its own success, moving electric vehicles from a cottage industry into a major tech trend. On the verge of the year 2000, ZAP had over 150 employees in Sebastopol with a small factory churning out as many as 100 electric scooters per day with several additional EV designs under active development.  ZAP helped fuel a global craze for stand-on scooters, but it was not long before low-priced, off-shore Asian competition started copying ZAP’s patented systems, a painful lesson in highly competitive global marketing that nearly put the company out of business.

ZAP had been selling its US-made electric scooters for over $500, when offshore replicas started flooding the US market through several large retailers for around $200.  Although ZAP sued and prevailed against

ZAP Sea-Doo Seascooter electric assist dive propulsion vehicle

ZAP Sea-Doo Seascooter electric DPV

some high profile knockoffs, the expense  of legal fees to assert all its patent protection would have been overwhelming.  At the time, ZAP had a ‘Made in the USA’ philosophy to support domestic job creation but quickly faced the reality of global competition and worked to outsource parts production in Asia with final assembly in the USA.  Also, the company began further diversification with other vehicle designs, including the sale of over 100 LECTRA motorcycles and other vehicles like go-karts, Powerskis, and over 10,000 Seascooters even electric roller skates.  ZAP signed a binding agreement to merge with Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) in 1999 as a way to enter the neighborhood electric car market, but unfortunately the company was out-bid by Chrysler’s $30 million offer.

The LECTRA electric motorcycle from EV pioneer ZAP.

The LECTRA electric motorcycle from ZAP.

At the time, ZAP was widely regarded for its quality scooters, but when faced with two similar choices, consumers and especially chain stores demonstrated that price trumps quality.  Sales plummeted and  layoffs followed.  By 2002, ZAP was turned upside down, helped in part by falling share prices, differences in management, the Dot Com crash and even 9/11.  Over the next year ZAP voluntarily sought protection under Chapter 11 Reorganization, entering February and emerging with the backing of stakeholders in May 2002. Although most reorganizations leave the old shareholders with no equity position, ZAP’s plan was one of the few that gave all old shareholders a stake as well as stock options in the reorganized ZAP.  ZAP’s plan of reorganization coincidentally enough was to get back into electric cars through new leadership and investment from current CEO Steve Schneider who had been looking to enter the electric car market with his own company Voltage Vehicles in nearby Santa Rosa.

ZAP WORLDCAR LUV electric car LSV/NEV

ZAP WORLDCAR in the Michellin Challenge Bibendum 2003

Steve Schneider’s vision was to put ZAP firmly back into the automotive market, with a business strategy of setting up electric car dealerships for advanced technology vehicles, including electric vehicles.  To build cars efficiently and profitably from scratch requires significant capital, so instead ZAP sought opportunities to import and distribute fuel-efficient vehicles from outside the country.  We don’t have time to tell the tale of the hundreds of vehicles sold by ZAP, but these included the Teener (aka ZAP Intimidator L.U.V.), the WORLDCAR from Heibao of China, and the Heartland NEV. ZAP even secured an exclusive

relationship with a new company in Brazil, Obvio ! Automotoveiculos S.A., to build two new alternative fuel vehicles, although that fell through when Obvio was never able to produce the vehicles.  ZAP even created its own hydrogen hybrid WORLDCAR in 2004 in partnership with Anuvu Fuel Cells because of the popularity of hydrogen fuel cell technology at the time, a vehicle that is sitting in its Santa Rosa Headquarters.

ZAP World Headquarters

ZAP is headquartered in downtown Santa Rosa, California

During that time ZAP moved its headquarters from Sebastopol to its current location in downtown Santa Rosa where it houses a corporate showroom to display its complete product line.  Through its merger with Voltage Vehicles, ZAP became the owner of an auto dealership nearby in Santa Rosa.  ZAP also leased facilities in the nearby warehouse district of Railroad Square for final assembly, storage and service for its electric vehicles, as well as a location for research and development on future vehicle projects.

ZAP’s most ambitious attempt to distribute energy efficient cars was through its pioneering work with the first micro car to sell in the USA, the Smart Car. ZAP funded all of  the original engineering, crash tests and emission tests to bring the first vehicles from Europe to the USA.  Smart had test marketed the cars in the USA, but pulled the plug saying there was no market as Americans appeared to prefer big cars.  ZAP believed differently and the first Smart Car sold legally in the USA was delivered by ZAP to a customer in Nevada on May 17, 2005. ZAP created a cross country tour and created one of the very first internet registration systems for cars.  ZAP sold over 300 units, and received orders for thousands more, before Daimler/Chrysler suddenly decided to change their plans and market the vehicle directly.   But ZAP fought on, continually finding a persistent demand for even more fuel efficient cars, especially electrics.

Smart Car Americanized by ZAP

ZAP imported the first smart car fortwo coupe into the US in 2005.

Another approach where ZAP had some success was started in the 90s:  (1) designing electric vehicles in the USA and contracting factories in China to build its vehicles, and (2) designing electric versions of Asian-made gas model scooters, motorcycles, dirt bikes and ATVs.  This resulted in the ability to market EV designs like the Sea-Doo Seascooter for diving, the Zappy3 scooter/personal transporter, and the Zapino moped-class scooter. It was this idea that eventually led ZAP to start work on the Xebra sedan and truck in 2005, which is where the story of the Alias begins to unfold.

One of the primary inspirations for the ZAP’s three wheeled approach was the Corbin Sparrow, which sold well during the late 90s, but the company closed shop as it could not create enough demand to lower parts and production costs. The vehicle worked like a car, but because of the three-wheel design it was classified as a motorcycle, making it less costly to bring to market.  ZAP also noted the strong following by its owners and the low price tag, and ended up buying, selling, and refurbishing many of them before attempting to acquire the remnants of the company.  The molds of the Corbin Sparrow were eventually sold off to a group in the mid-west, ending up as Myers Motors in Ohio.

The Sam Cree Project

The Sam Cree was an inspiration for ZAP's three wheel vehicle approach

Another inspiring car sits in ZAP’s showroom in downtown Santa Rosa.  The Sam Cree was a connection with some of the first designers of the Smart Car, a group of former Swatch engineers in Switzerland who had developed the Sam Cree/Swatchmobile three wheeled electric car, and thereafter partnered with Mercedes and became a four wheeled gas car.  A remnant of that company who had been trying to get this vehicle back on the road in its original three-wheeled electric form contacted ZAP in 2004 when it heard about efforts to sell the Smart Car, and ZAP acquired one of the original models. There are reports that the vehicle is currently available through a new Polish company.

The ZAP Xebra electric car and truck

ZAP Xebra sedan and truck electric vehicles

ZAP believed the underlying drawback of both the Sparrow and the Sam Cree designs was limited passenger capacity, but ZAP noticed that three-wheeled sedans and trucks were common in Asia.  If lower speed versions were sold in the United States at affordable prices, ZAP believed they would be well received in an era of record gas prices. Although, most Chinese thought that the idea of an electric car made no business sense, ZAP was eventually able to negotiate a manufacturing agreement with a small automaker in China that made three wheel gas taxi sedans and utility trucks, and worked with ZAP to create one of the first low cost electric vehicles.

The electric Xebra sedan can carry four passengers and is one of the only electric vehicles you could buy able to go faster than 25 mph.  Later, ZAP created a Xebra truck, a popular choice with commercial users. As the only vehicle in its class they sold well until gas prices fell and the recession started in 2008, with the market for consumer based electric cars dropping all across the board forcing many electric car makers to cut back or cease production altogether.  Also billions in stimulus money was loaned and granted to the large auto companies to create new full size electric consumer cars, as well as specialty electric and electric/hybrid sports cars, which affected the consumer market.

Angel Island State Park using a ZAP electric truck

A ZAP XL electric truck at Angel Island State Park.

This forced ZAP to modify its strategy again in 2009.  Although nearly 1,000 Xebras were sold in three years, ZAP believed a larger market opportunity was emerging to serve government and corporate fleets.  ZAP today is a leader in providing low cost electric trucks and vans to government and private fleets. In 2010, ZAP was one of a handful of companies in the country selected to retrofit a USPS long life delivery vehicle. ZAP is also working to develop an electric SUV that will serve specialized high profile fleet markets through a new joint venture with Holley Metering, the world’s leading producer of power meters in China, as well as distribution through its partner Samyang Optics in Korea.

Today, ZAP has developed, designed, manufactured and sold over 117,000 electric vehicles to over 72 countries, making it not only one of the earliest pioneers in the EV industry, but one of the few that actually delivers EV vehicles for street use.  Currently our larger ZAP XL LSV/NEV electric truck and Shuttle van have  been popular with government and corporate fleet customers.

Which brings us to the Alias…

ZAP Alias electric car under development in Ohio

ZAP Alias electric car under development from 2009 Ohio build.

ZAP believes its current strategic direction will allow it to continue to explore the consumer electric car market with a vehicle that is a sensible blend of price, performance, and efficiency.  The idea had been forming in 2006 when ZAP retained a respected European automotive engineering firm to conduct a feasibility study to develop an exciting, state-of-the-art electric vehicle design.  The initial design was unveiled at NADA 2007, an electric crossover SUV called the ZAP-X that held massive appeal, but required significant capital in order to bring it to market. ZAP may reconsider a four-wheel SUV design for consumers, but in the meantime the company has shifted its focus and attention on a vehicle that builds on the success of ZAP’s three-wheeled electric vehicle designs: The Alias.

The meltdown of the auto industry has shown that the old way of making cars doesn’t work anymore and the industry needs a paradigm shift.  Individual mechanics can work miracles in their private garages, but major corporations indicate they cannot be profitable making innovative designs — the basis of why something has to change. ZAP believes building a car from the ground up does not have to be prohibitively expensive and has put that idea to the test.

Green/Maroon electric car called ZAP Alias

The first styling prototype of the ZAP Alias electric car.

Veteran Detroit automotive craftsmen who had spent their entire careers building the best cars on the planet were now out of work or without contracts.  After interview many individuals and groups, ZAP formed a relationship with a small prototyping group out of Maumee, Ohio.  The owners had pedigrees from careers with General Motors and Magna, designing, building and prototyping many types of US-made automobiles like the Corvette as well as components, parts and accessories.  Under secrecy and starting from scratch in early 2008 they began work and the first ZAP Alias was unveiled on June 16 of that year, a styling prototype in green/maroon two-ton

e pigment that brought the design to life.  Additional prototypes were built over the next two years and ZAP moved the team to California in late 2009 to advance and accelerate the design, help ZAP with the PIAXP and work on other projects.  The bottom line is that the Alias was brought to its current state of development with several drivable prototypes for approximately 20 percent of what it would have cost prestigious engineering firms to create just one vehicle.  ZAP believed this was crucial to ensuring an affordable design for the future.

The timing with the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize could not a better opportunity for ZAP and its plans with the Alias. Meeting competition criteria for the PIAXP and following their guidelines and advice is an asset that far exceeds the investment in the competition.  Things like design, safety, production, marketability, performance — many of the things the traditional auto industry look at when bringing a vehicle to market.  The 100+ MPGe is an added challenge that makes the PIAXP a unique opportunity for the history of the auto industry.

A ZAP electric car on the freeway in Korea.

The ZAP Alias made its first public demonstration at the Korea EV Challenge in March.

The Alias was designed to give drivers what they were promised years ago: a futuristic looking vehicle that is fun, zero-emission, comfortable, yet affordable.  The Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize has brought more attention to the vehicle, and we feel the competition has helped us move the vehicle closer to commercialization.

The mood at ZAP is calm and professional, but underneath the surface you can sense a fierce competitive desire to perform well in the PIAXP, bring the Alias to market, and continue the lead the charge towards cleaner transportation.  Our team is comprised of individuals from India, China, Sri Lanka, France, California and Detroit.  Our members have worked on race cars, rockets, and roller coasters.   The Alias design has already received global praise.  Today ZAP is working with several partners around the world, creating localized jobs, and utilizing global engineering to advance the Alias and its other vehicles.

This is by no means a complete history of ZAP, but comments and questions are welcome.  Thank you for reading and for your interest in energy efficient transportation, a pastime that many of us at ZAP have made our life’s work.

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Written by ZAPalias

March 27, 2010 at 8:05 am

24 Responses

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  1. [...] EV designs like bicycles and scooters that could be affordable for a greater number of people.  Continued… Categories: History of ZAP, ZAP Alias Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment [...]

  2. [...] transportation more efficient was the very reason ZAP started business more than 15 years ago.  Ironically, ZAP chose to market smaller EVs at first because cars were such a challenge.  Many [...]

  3. As a motorcycle dealer in the minneapolis area for over 50 years i have often wondered if electric motorcycles weren’t the bigging of something very big. Ever since a saw a motorcycle come to the dragstrip called the KAWASHOCKIE OR KAWASHOCKY run a couple car batteries with a DC electric motor down the NHRA track at 11:08 seconds making no noise, i thought the future is here. With gasoline threatening $4 a gallon and making many people angry, WHAT WOULD BE BETTER THAN FOR AN ELECTRIC CAR TO APPEAR AND EVERYONE BUYS IT AND TELLS THE OIL GIANTS WHERE TO STICK THEIR OIL. we have burned the dinosaurs for far too long. IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE. ONE WE CAN ALL LIVE WITH AND BE AFFORDABLE. nitroman@tcq.net mpls minn

    John Becker

    January 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm

  4. If some one could build an all electric,no frills,light,120 volt,built-in charger,four or five seater they would have what the public wants at a cost they could afford.
    Most driving is within a 100 mile radius.The leaf is too expensive with a lot of extras you don’t need around town.

    Hal Morris

    February 12, 2011 at 3:36 am

  5. cool where are they sold?

    Terry Stinnett

    March 2, 2011 at 2:17 am

  6. You need to make them affordable for everyone…NO higher than 20-25 thousand or they will sit!

    david

    April 15, 2011 at 1:55 am

  7. i am a 2007 toyota prius owner…while mileage has ranged from 41 to 56 mpg, i calculate over a year averaging 48mpg (fill tank, clear trip meter to 0, drive for 3-5 days, note mileage driven, fill tank, divide mileage by gallons filled, result is considered my mpg for that trip! – start over)

    i need (and want) the best economical vehicle at a reasonable price. i am not adverse to appearance, but desire certain comforts during 1+hr commutes daily (1-way).

    i like what i see in this Alias vehicle, but have NUMEROUS concerns as a potential customer/consumer some of which are:

    1. will you offer test models, or rentables (i rented a prius for 2 weeks, bought one few months later!)

    2. i am 6’2″/245, would i fit AND be semi comfortable?

    3. will common amenities such as Stereo, Air Cond, power gear, etc. be available, or are they perhaps considered tabu for a vehicle like this in order to maximize mileage?

    4. finally, i drive 100mi round trip daily…which 75% of my commute is open road and freeway, where speeds allowed are 55mph-70mph. although i understand variables such as weight, distance, terrain, hills, tires, stop/go, signals, etc. all impact the final distance calculations – is there a formula that one can use to “guesstimate” potential distance on a charge, with reasonable accuracy based on this scenario?

    i ask because i imagine that while vehicles claim to obtain 100mi per charge, higher speeds, some hills, etc turn south real fast and are more realistically like 40-60mi per charge.

    5. finally, i heard in a video, the Alias would be registered as a “motorcycle”, does that afford an owner the right to use the Alias in carpool lanes that allow motorcycles?

    anyhow, thanks for your time – keep up the great work!

    america (and the world) need solutions such as yours.
    very best of luck to your organization moving forward.

    kindest regards – from me@gasnomo.com

    me

    April 17, 2011 at 3:43 am

  8. Hi hows it going ? I’ m interested in electric vehicles and promoting them in the u.k.. Is the ALIAS available as a demonstrator currently ?
    This kind of transport must be popularised….for all our futures.
    Please contact me r.e. U.K. and Euro distribution .

    Sarathi

    May 5, 2011 at 1:14 am

  9. I have to admit, I actually like the Alias, although, unless it as toted as a motorcycle the US government will never let it see the street. It’ll need all kinds of safety gadgets, bumpers, lights,ext,ext,ext.
    The problem I see with the electric vehicles that any of the major car companies manufacture is that they are simply ugly and show no class whatsoever. Americans like a vehicle that is an extension of their personalities, Pruis, Volt, Leaf are truly hideous overpriced failured attempts.

    Jef

    May 6, 2011 at 3:56 am

  10. how much is the zap alias goes for?

    kenneth wong

    May 14, 2011 at 6:29 am

    • It’s not available yet, but the anticipated price would be under $40,000

      ZAPalias

      November 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

  11. Will these vehicles be available in Canada?

    Brian Amble

    May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm

  12. Waht will be the price?

    Harold van der Gang

    June 4, 2011 at 6:05 am

  13. Yo estoy interesado en zap electric car.

    carlos trezza

    June 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm

  14. The Alias looks great. I want to drive one. I have a Vectrix scooter which is a blast to ride compared to my cruiser motorcycle. Electrics can be built very performence oriented and look great. If I come to Santa Rosa, can I drive an Alias?
    I’m retiring in five years. My wife and I would look great in one of these. To heck with gas burners.

    Fredrick Ramsden

    August 11, 2011 at 3:16 am

    • Check back towards the middle of 2012. ZAP merged with a Chinese car company called Jonway we’re finally starting to focus on ALIAS.

      ZAPalias

      November 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

  15. So, all us stock holders are watching shares plummet and hoping that there are not behind the scene manipulations going on so that when the reverse split comes, ZAP can justify an 8-1 instead of a 4-1. I feel bruised :(

    Devi Jaya DeLavie

    September 19, 2011 at 9:22 pm

  16. Looks like stock is holding at the .36 mark, ???? Devi- I hear you. :-( What’s with that? And the partnership / acquisition with Jonway? Look at the quarterly report….

    Neat concept, but the 38 K price tag? Seems like the KISS principal went out the window …If it hit at a lower price, then maybe , but I’m not spending 38 K for a vehicle. I hope others do though. :-)

    marlboro

    September 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

  17. [...] from the EV scene in the US (the company’s official (read: sanitized) history can be found here). Last we heard, ZAP was hyping a venture with the Korean optics firm Samyang, but it seems the [...]

  18. [...] from the EV scene in the US (the company’s official (read: sanitized) history can be found here). Last we heard, ZAP was hyping a venture with the Korean optics firm Samyang, but it seems the [...]

  19. [...] from the EV scene in the US (the company’s official (read: sanitized) history can be found here). Last we heard, ZAP was hyping a venture with the Korean optics firm Samyang, but it seems the [...]


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