The ZAP Alias Electric Car

Nothing happens unless first a dream – Carl Sandberg

ZAP’s challenge and opportunity with the Alias

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If building fuel-efficient cars were easy, it would have been done already.  This is why the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE is the perfect way of solving the conundrum of 100 MPGe and above cars. It’s also the reason ZAP was formed.

Building the ZAP electric car in Santa Rosa, California

Zack working on the windshield of the Alias.

Making 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 seem to think it’s easy to build cars.  It’s not.  What they find out is it always takes longer and costs more than expected to enter the vehicle business, something we and many others have learned over the years.  But X PRIZE is helping us with our goal of expanding into electric automobiles while offering guidance in key automotive areas, like efficiency, safety, marketability, performance and others.

X PRIZE helps but they also challenge you.  There are an incredible number of rules and requirements, extra testing and safety equipment and deadlines, deadlines, deadlines, from the competition application and fees, to the three technical deliverables, which are akin to college term papers with video presentations.  And they must be submitted by the deadline or your team will face elimination, so you could say it’s like Survivor for Cars.  The pressure gets pretty intense at times, but it’s exhilarating working as a team and accomplishing your goals.  It’s exciting to see people’s energy and enthusiasm pick up as the Shakedown date nears.

Prizes have been shown to be a successful way of bringing attention to various causes.  The dollar amount for prizes over $100,000 has tripled in the last decade to $375 million a year and The New York Times said the growth has “…been driven by the desire to effect change and bring attention to a social issue or a practical problem.”

Progressive Insurance has sponsored the Automotive X Prize and the ZAP Alias

Do you think Progressive is getting it's money's worth? Bigtime!

The challenge posed by X PRIZE is a social one, because it offers a new alternative that is practical and efficient.  But if winning an international competition with a cool car isn’t enough for you, Progressive Insurance sweetens the deal with $10 million in prize money split up between three classes: Mainstream automobiles ($5 milllion prize), and two alternative classes with $2.5 million in prizes each, one side-by-side seating and the other tandem seating, more than one seat being a requirement of the competition.

At ZAP we can honestly say it’s not only about the cash prize, although it would be nice.  Indeed, X PRIZE has estimated that teams will spend as much as 40 times the amount of prize money, so you have to think that Progressive Insurance made a pretty smart business decision to sponsor the competition.  As competitors, you can tell that the X PRIZE foundation, Progressive and many of the teams are not just doing this for business reasons. This is why we’re looking forward to getting to MIS and meeting people from the other teams.  With so many talented individuals from a variety of backgrounds coming together for such a cause, win or lose, there’s bound to be an opportunity to share ideas, learn from each other and collaborate. Kudos to Progressive and X PRIZE for creating a unique atmosphere that inspires innovation.

Honestly, making the Alias competition-ready for X PRIZE while running an electric vehicle business has been both a challenge and exciting at the same time.  This is a new direction and a new opportunity for ZAP.  We believe the Alias is the perfect combination of form and function, which will provide the world with a futuristic looking design they can afford to buy and use, and also greatly decrease the use of harmful petrochemicals.  So, taking on this challenge is a prize unto itself.  Although it was a difficult decision to enter the X PRIZE two years ago, and it has not been easy, today we are glad we did because it has made us a better company.


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