January 30, 2007 5:24 PM PST

Zap teams with Lotus for electric sports car

Zap, which specializes in electric scooters and economy cars, is jumping into the sports car market.

The Santa Rosa, Calif.-based company will try to bring an electric sports car to the market by the end of 2008 built around the APX, a concept car developed by England's Lotus Engineering. Lotus designed the APX to accommodate a gas-powered V6.

The design goals for the Zap-X, if met, would allow Zap to leapfrog ahead of Tesla Motors and Wrightspeed in terms of how far the vehicle will go before a charge. Zap said its car will go 350 miles before a charge, significantly farther than either the Tesla Roadster or the car from Wrightspeed.

APX
Credit: Lotus
The APX is a concept car developed
by England's Lotus Engineering.

The Zap-X will cost only $60,000, said Zap CEO Steve Schneider. The Tesla Roadster sells for $92,000, while the WrightSpeed X1 will go for around $120,000. The Zap-X won't be as fast, but it won't putter either. It will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds; the Tesla Roadster does that in 4 seconds, while the X1 can do that in 3 seconds. Just as importantly, the Zap-X will have room for five adults, instead of the two seats in the other cars.

"We are appealing to the SUV buyer who feels sort of guilty about buying an SUV," Schneider said.

Zap said it will show off an electric version of the Zap-X at the North American Dealers Association starting February 3.

The company also said the battery in the car could be recharged in about 10 minutes, faster than other cars. Zap did not identify the battery manufacturer, but Altair Nanotechnologies has been touting a rapidly charging lithium ion battery for cars. The Zap-X will have a theoretical maximum speed of 155 mph and sport 644 horsepower, the company said.

Inserting an electric motor into a gas car isn't new. Wrightspeed's X1 is essentially a marriage between an electric motor and the Atom, a sports car from England. The company, however, is redesigning the car for its commercial launch. Using an existing car shell cuts down engineering time and costs.

Photos: Zap cars scream green

Lotus has been working on trying to incorporate electronic technology into its cars for a while, Schneider said. Lotus actually worked with Tesla on its car. Initially, Zap considered building an electric car around Lotus' Europa sports car, which would have made the Zap car similar to the Tesla model.

Then, by chance, Schneider said, he saw the APX while at the Lotus facility. The APX holds more people and comes with an aluminum shell, rather than a carbon one.

The Zap-X differs significantly from the gas-powered version of the APX. The Zap-X runs on four hub motors on the wheels. The brakes are also powered by the engine. The 350-mile range on the car comes from the fact that Zap and Lotus were able to remove many parts required by the gas version of the car but not needed in the electric version.

Better batteries, high gas prices and worries about global warming have all combined to give the notion of electric cars a boost. Car companies, however, also have tinkered with their creations to make them easier to own. Many earlier electric cars needed to be charged at special stations, while the modern crop of electric mobiles can be charged at home.

Additionally, car companies are touting performance just as much as ecological friendliness, a distinct change in marketing. Ian Wright of Wrightspeed pointed out that his car is the second fastest sports car on the market, largely because of the way electric motors work. Most likely, the car will largely appeal to those looking for a thrill, not for a way to combat fossil fuel consumption.

"A certain number of people turn 40 every year," Wright said last year.

Every year, consumers in North America alone buy around 30,000 new "supercars," defined as cars that sell for $80,000 and up, according to Wright. That's about $3 billion a year.

Tesla is booking deposits for one to two Tesla Roadsters a day. (The car isn't out yet, but people can buy one on the company's Web site.)

Currently, Zap primarily markets budget electric vehicles designed mostly for short hops. Zap's Xebra car, for instance, costs about $10,000 but tops out at 35 mph. The company's scooters go for around $500.

Meanwhile, Tesla is working on a four-person sedan, said CEO Martin Eberhard. The company is also selling batteries to Think Global. Think Global bought the Think car from Ford, tinkered with the design, and will rerelease it in Norway and England later this year.

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24 comments

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Unfair comparison
Comparing the Tesla, a car that exists today and it's planned for delivery to customers in a matter of weeks, with a prototype that's scheduled for delivery in two years, is not very reasonable. That might be doable with gas powered cars, since they change little from one year to the next. But it is expected that, by late 2008 or early 2009 the Tesla will extend its range significantly, thanks to new battery technologies (likely a relatively simple upgrade to existing vehicles). That might put the Tesla's range close to the one for the Zap vehicle (and above most gas and diesel powered cars).
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How much to make it look good?
$60k for that? Looks like someone mated a Pacer and a Matrix.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
Unfair. . obviously you didn't think this through
So, you are seriously making the argument that in the span of two years, the technology used by the Tesla will improve significantly while that used by the Zap car will be stagnant?
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
Link Flag
Major malfunction
What the hell is wrong with their heads? These cars are supposed to be marketed for the COMMON person. Not Porsche owners. (Audi owner myself)

Is this how we're going to save the environment, by having British companies covet the US auto industry stereotype that cars need MORE POWERRRR? It's inefficient waste!

How bout this. Halve the damn horsepower and top speed (most people don't know how to handle a car anyway at that speed), and sell the fricken thing for $30,000. Which is still too much.

Idiots.
Posted by blurble (79 comments )
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get an education, brand building
No, they're building a brand with expensive vehicles designed to last with novelty factor, which means they can have larger margins.

Only then will it be time to team up (or get bought out by) a larger manufacturer who can absorb the large assembly line costs.
Posted by drew494949 (7 comments )
Link Flag
I agree
Just make a practical car so many people can buy it and gas stations will start installing recharge stations. Aren't electric motors and batteries pretty simple? Can't they make something for less than $10k? $60k is too much and $100k is just insulting! Actually, $60k is insulting too.

You are right, I don't need to go 0-60 in 4 seconds, I just want to go 70 mph for 100 miles on a 15 minute charge. I would even pay $20k. Is that possible?
Posted by TradeHound (11 comments )
Link Flag
Thinking from the last century
You are thinking based on internal combustion engined cars paradygms, where power leads cost and is related to efficiency. Not so with electric cars and if you think this through you'll see they are doing what's right at the moment.
One of the bid differences between electric cars and IC cars is that power is irrelevant cost and efficiency wise. You could halve the power and end up with a car that costs 2% less and has about the same range.
An electric cars power is limited mostly by the battery power output. As the battery size is normally not dictated by this but by energy storage, reducing the power needed does not affect the battery size.
What they are doing is speccing the battery based on range and vehicle weight/size. Then, given the power output of the battery they spec the engine and other parts. They could use a lower size/power motor, but nothing would be gained.
They are doing what's right for today. If they could do a $10 car with a thousand mile range, they would, but in a nascent field you do what it first become possible. Given the layout/weight/size/range constrains, a sports car (which has the lowest possible useful load to overall weight ratio) is simply possible earlier than a compact or a sedan. And a sports car has better margins, which is important for an emerging market with so many variables. They'll focus on those when they become possible.
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Link Flag
You're Confused
The battery pack that Zap is using has nothing to do with Altair's NanoSafe, which is used exclusively by Phoenix Motorcars. That should have told you that
Zap couldn't possibly be using NanoSafes, although there were plenty of other reasons as well - Zap explicitly stated that the results were due to a computer software battery management system (vaguely similar to Tesla's) built by a Danish company. And the batteries were also explicitly
described as li ion batteries, which Altair NanoSafes most definitely are not. Before speculating on something, a little knowledge would
go a long way. Also, the "electric sports car"
is anything but a sports car.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Altair
Actually, Schneider said later it is one of the batteries they are looking at.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
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Altair
Actually, Schneider said later it is one of the batteries they are looking at.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
Link Flag
Doesn't mean it's not from Altair
Although I doubt the batteries are from Altair just because of the lack of Altair press releases, there is the possibility that these batteries come from ABAT with Altair technology, instead of from Altair directly, isn't there? I'm assuming the Phoenix-Altair deal only excludes the batteries specifically manufactured by Altair. ZAP has done some research with ABAT in the recent past, and ABAT had an agreement with Altair at about the same time about incorporating the Altair tech into ABAT batteries. I haven't heard anything about either of those partnerships ever since (either it came to nothing or it has been secretive... and still is)

Also, I would still consider Altair's batteries Lithium-Ion, just with an important mod. Even Phoenix Motorcars calls these Lithium Ion in multiple press releases.
Posted by dr19075 (1 comment )
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British companies - American stereotypes
Obviously, you don't know the nationality of ZAP or the types of cars that Lotus makes. Your comment is pretty foolish.
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
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Why the angst?
So many of the folks who respond to this type of story sound so very angry.
I'm just pickled tink that SOMEBODY is doing something about moving us into the future.
I just wonder, if half the people who paid $60,000 or more for autos in the past two years, had been able to buy electrics like the one described in this article, instead of the smokin', chokin' gas guzzlers they did buy, what would be the price of gas today?
I realize that the electricity to charge the battery may come from fossil fuels but much of it doesn't and that could make a difference.
Regardless, I hope that someday, in the near future, my children will be able to breath something other than soot from infernal combustion engines, and that we'll be able to tell Hugo Chavez and Islamic fanatics to "take a hike!"
Don't get mad at the people who are trying to accomplish that, regardless of their motives.
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't need a super fast car
I want an electric car with a long range and a short recharge time and a reasonable price. I don't need to go 0-60 in 4 seconds. I would buy a car that goes 70 mph for 100 miles on a 15 minute charge. Oh and less than $20k. If it goes 0-60 in 8 or 10 or 12 seconds, fine. Is this impossible?

This article says "..could be recharged in about 10 minutes, faster than other cars."
How ambiguous! Is it 10 minutes or just 10 minutes faster than other cars???

This car sounds promising, except $60k is still too much for an electric car. $100k is just insulting.

People try to make transportation a race: Hey I didn't sign on to risk my life in a road race with you, I'm just trying to get to work.
Posted by TradeHound (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Electric technology
You don't need a fast car. But with electric vehicles that comes basically for free, as the electric motors are relatively cheap, and their power output is not related to efficiency, and the price is relatively flat.
Would you rather get a fast car for 60K or a slow car for 59K, all other things being equal?
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Link Flag
Altair and Phoenix/Zap
I know that the exclusivity with phoenix is for vehicles under 6000 pounds. There might be an agreement between Phoenix and Zap targeting very different customers. Altair and phoenix are notoriously quiet with the updates on this sort of thing. Very frustrating, given the potential of the battery. No matter how low oil gets, its hard to compete with the equivilant of a tank for 3 bucks. Do you (author) know of any competing technologies out there that perform similar to the Nanosafe?
Posted by b3baby (6 comments )
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hey
this is a nice story. you took my idea
Posted by rosie jaeger (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hey
this is a nice story. you took my idea
Posted by rosie jaeger (2 comments )
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Batteries will not be Altair
With a range of 350 miles, the battery pack won't
likely contain any Altair Nanosafes, which weigh around 30 pounds per kWhr. That would indicate a battery pack weight of over 2500 pounds! The car would be a porker. Also, if they were Altairs, the news would have been released by Altair. And Phoenix has exclusive use of Altairs for EVs, so ZAP couldn't buy them even if they wanted to. They also are mentioning a battery pack control unit, which Altair batteries do not require.
Whoever suggested Altairs obviously is a real neophyte in the auto battery world.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Toshiba to market carbon nanotube lithium in 2008
Toshiba will be producing a carbon nanotube lithium in the first part of 2008. It will be marketed as Super Charge. I could not get any more information from them (size/price/availablity). They are already over a year late (initially projected to be sold end of 2006) but marketing and sales manager in Toshiba confirmed new release deadline.
Posted by HalFisher (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Toshiba Super Charge Lithium-ion
There are others but Toshiba will be producing nanotube lithium-ion in 2008. Here is the original article from 3/2005: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.physorg.com/preview3539.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.physorg.com/preview3539.html</a>
Posted by HalFisher (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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