ZAP has announced an exciting new car that brings another electric car to the scene in the US that promises a range up to 350 miles and outstanding performance. This is in addition to the electric cars offered by Tesla and Phoenix Motor Cars, which have shorter ranges. This brings up the question as to whether battery technology has progressed far enough that the plug-in could be bypassed and we could go directly to EVs. I don't think so, but we are much closer than I would have thought a year ago. It makes me wonder why Detroit is still so concerned about battery technology. They could certainly bankroll someone to get the production rate of batteries up to at least a 100,000 units a year and get the price down to a more reasonable value.
Following is the press release by ZAP. Be sure to read my interview with ZAP and further comments following the press release.
ZAP press release, Jan. 30, 2007
ZAP (OTC BB: ZAAP) today announced plans to display Lotus Engineering's advanced APX concept car, shown here, at the North American Dealers Association (NADA) annual meeting and exhibition, February 3 to 6, 2007, confirming their choice to move ahead using Lotus' revolutionary platform and body structure design as the basis for the development of the high performance electric ZAP-X.
ZAP and Lotus Engineering will begin the first phase of an engineering project to use the British consultancy's APX ("Aluminum Performance Crossover") as a basis for designing a production-ready electric all-wheel drive crossover high performance vehicle for ZAP in the USA market.
A combination of the lightweight aluminum vehicle architecture, a new efficient drive and advanced battery management systems is intended to enable a range of up to 350 miles between charges, with a rapid 10-minute recharging time. An auxiliary power unit is planned to support longer distance journeys.
Lotus' APX's conventional gasoline V6 engine will be replaced by revolutionary in-hub electric motors, delivering 644 horsepower in all wheel drive mode, theoretically capable of powering the ZAP-X to a potential top speed of 155mph. A new strong, lightweight and highly efficient structure based on the Lotus technology is planned to give the car a very attractive power-to-weight ratio.
Steve Schneider, CEO of ZAP, said: "Lotus Engineering's APX technology demonstrator vehicle is a perfect fit for our plans to introduce a full product portfolio of electric cars. Due to the initial design by Lotus, our cost and time to production will be significantly reduced. We believe that the ZAP-X will become the most advanced, most practical and most appealing flagship electric vehicle to date and will revolutionize the industry providing the driver with the enjoyment of a sports car and the practicality of an SUV."
The APX showcases Lotus Engineering's Versatile Vehicle Architecture technology, combining lightweight aluminum vehicle architecture with exceptionally strong and stiff structural rigidity, as well as lower manufacturing investment requirements. Having first been shown to the world at the Geneva motor show in 2006, the APX concept has won the 2006 European Aluminum Awards in the "Transport and Automotive" category.
ZAP has an agreement with Lotus Engineering regarding its joint development of new electric car designs with Lotus Engineering. The study will look at a variety of critical success factors. These cover several technical issues including the integration of major components, new motor designs, controllers, batteries and charging systems. Marketing considerations such as styling, performance, and features will be studied, as well as manufacturing process engineering, project timing and costs.
ZAP currently markets the only city-speed electric car and truck available in the United States through a new automotive distribution portal marketing a complete lineup of advanced technology vehicles. The Company markets many forms of advanced transportation vehicles, including electric automobiles, fuel-efficient vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters, neighborhood electric vehicles and all terrain vehicles. It markets products designed solely by it, as well as products it designs together with other companies. Most of its products are manufactured in China. Its automobiles are assembled outside of the United States, but made to comply with United States laws.
I discussed the Zap-X with Alex Campbell, Zaps Director of Communications and Marketing, who was very enthusiastic about the future of electric cars and, as far as he was concerned, the time was right and the technology was available now. He said that Lotus was a great company to be working with and that they embraced the need for electric cars and were very enthusiastic about their future. However in general he said that the company was still in the process of making decisions on some of the details of the ZAP-X and/or were not willing to disclose some information other than what was in their press release. I did ask him to comment on four points:
1) Regarding batteries, he said there are many battery technologies to choose from and they have not determined what battery technology is going to used in this car, irrespective of their agreement with ABAT. (The 10 minute charge time referred to in their press release indicates to me that its a lithium baseed battery technology)
2) Regarding the market he did not have any specifics except to say that they thought there was a good market for compact crossover vehicles which offers more features than previous electric cars.
3) They expected the car to be in the $60,000 price range and their target was to have it available as early as 2008, although at this time it was hard to pin down an exact date as the project was still evolving.
4) Regarding the auxiliary power unit, he was unable to comment at this time as to what they had in mind. I would think that a small engine to charge the batteries would be the most likely interpretation of this statement, but it could be any number of things including a serial hybrid drive as in the GM Volt, a fuel cell to recharge the batteries as in Ford's Airstream Concept Car or other possibilities.
He did comment that the Xebra was being accepted very well, with several hundred being sold and that the greatest interest was for fleet vehicles.
This announcement has made my interest in ZAP much more enthusiastic, as this car is aimed at the mainstream consumer, rather than what I considered a specialty market. Others may disagree as to the future of the "micro-car" in the US, as it is quite popular in other parts of the world and their may be a fairly big niche market for it. I think the announcement over emphasizes the performance aspects of the car, but perhaps as Tesla has, they feel that the performance market may be more suited for the earlier adopters. Tesla also is also planing a a second generation car, the Tesla Sedan, in the $60,000 price range. I would think that it would be fairly easy to modify the ZAP-X for less performance and reduce the cost, so that they could reach a wider market, as batteries must be a significant cost component, but perhaps a different, less expensive body would be necessary to get the price down to the ~$US45,000 range that Phoenix is aiming for. This is more the price point that Phoenix apparently thinks fleet operators would be willing to pay. ZAP develops all sorts of vehicles for relatively small market segments.
Being in business since 1994 it has delivered nearly 100,000 vehicles to consumers in more than 75 countries. This may be viewed as a large number of units sold by some standards and points to them having a considerable amount of experience to build upon. However this is a small number when compared to the automotive market and the price point for the ZAP-X is far above anything they have sold before. Their partnership with Lotus certainly enhances their ability to suceed in building a car that will be accepted by consumers. Lotus already provides the chassis and suspension from its Elise to make the Tesla roadster. I certainly welcome ZAP to this market and wish them the best of luck with this endeavor. At this time the burgeoning market for electric cars can benefit from as many players as possible.