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Burned By ZAP

 Posted by on March 28, 2008
Mar 282008

By John DeFore

It sounded too good to be true: An all-electric car with a range of 350 miles on a single 10-minute charge; a car that moreover could shoot from zero to sixty in under five seconds. It even had a futuristic name, the ZAP-X (that’s for “zero air pollution”).

According to a story in this month’s Wired magazine, it was too good to be believed — and so was almost every other claim made by the wheeling-dealers at ZAP (who declined to comment to Wired or to us).

ZAP Corp., of Santa Rosa, Calif., has been one of the most visible of the many startups hoping to get electric vehicles into American garages, but that visibility has been generated less by actual products than by an endless stream of breathless press releases, each promising an exciting new car to be delivered soon to a showroom near you. Green-minded consumers, trend-watching media outlets, and ambitious investors have fawned over the company, but the goods have yet to be delivered.

A chart accompanying Wired‘s story shows eight models that have been announced for impending sale as far back as 2003; so far, only the two least impressive (a Chinese import called the Xebra and its sibling mini-truck) are available for purchase through the company. One of the AWOL models, the much-hyped Smart car, figures into one of the story’s many sketchy business interactions: ZAP announced in 2005 that it would be importing the microcars before it had a deal in place; the same day, Smart manufacturer DaimerChrysler told Reuters that no such deal existed.

Colorful anecdotes like that abound in the piece, but all seem to have the same ending: the corporation’s top execs get rich while everyone else holds the bag. Wired says that ZAP repeatedly refused to comment on the article’s assertions before publication, noting that “[CEO Steve] Schneider will only say he and [chairman Gary] Starr never knowingly committed any illegal acts.”

Wired magazine isn’t mentioned under the “News” heading on the Zap home page, of course. Instead, one of the top stories there (as of this writing) is headlined “The Adventurous, Exciting Life of CEO Steve Schneider.” (Other items cite positive press notice of the limited-range, low-speed Xebra and of the battery-powered scooters that evidently make up the bulk of the “electric vehicles” the company brags about having sold.)

No, if you want to get ZAP’s take on bad press you have to visit the outlandish Zap Girls site, a recruiting page for spokesmodels seemingly designed to poach Hooters waitresses. At Zap Girls you can currently download a document titled Electric Cars and Zap Under Attack, which compares the company’s execs to Edison and Copernicus and says of negative stories that “it has been well documented that journalists are being paid to discredit the danger of global warming, and to degrade the benefits of electric cars…Big Oil and Big Auto could not pick better friends.”

Only a rube, of course, would accept that Wired — a magazine whose very existence is predicated on enthusiasm for groundbreaking new technology — would write a hit-piece on behalf of the fossil-fuel lobby.

Meanwhile, those of us watching and waiting for a practical plug-in replacement car may have reason to resent ZAP, even if we haven’t been financially burned: Wired suggests that “investment firms around the country have become cautious about financing electric vehicles after being repeatedly misled by one of the industry’s most visible companies.”

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media