The most recent dead-tree edition of Wired Magazine just arrived and the cover sports a charged headline reading: “Eco Hype: ZAPS’s No-Show Green Cars.” ZAP? That press release-happy, Santa Rosa, Calif.-based electric scooter maker?
Yep, the 10-page feature tells the story of the electric vehicle startup that became a 14-year old publicly traded company that has turned an annual profit just once, offers just two three-wheeled electric vehicles, and has more than one pending SEC investigations against it. While ZAP declined to comment for the piece, Sullivan quotes several ex-executives as well as several frustrated franchisees.
No doubt ZAP has made some large promises it has yet to fulfill: the fuel cell-power Worldcar never materialized; neither did Daimler’s compact Smart Fortwo, nor the Brazilian flex-fuel compact Obvio, points out Wired. While ZAP is now suing Daimler, the Worldcar and Obvio deals evaporated with little explanation.
So what does the electric-vehicle maker have going in its favor? Well, in the broad but shallow pond of electric vehicle companies, ZAP is one of the only ones actually selling electric vehicles, the three-wheeled Xebra, to American customers Schneider recently said in an interview.
ZAP’s most recent big news was the joint venture it launched with Chinese automaker Youngman Automotive Group. The JV is called Detroit Electric and is headed by Albert Lam who left his position as CEO of Lotus Engineering to lead the new company. “Our plan is to launch with a 12-meter pure electric transit bus, the ZAP Alias, and two family sedans as early as the summer of 2009,” Lam said in the release.
While companies like Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive have been focused on getting a high-performance electric vehicle to market and have spent tens of millions to do so, ZAP seems to have dawdled along the way, pushing iPod chargers and plug-in hybrid kits instead of getting four-wheeled electric vehicles into customers’ garages, or their own partners’ showrooms.
While it seems unlikely that Sullivan’s article will do much to disrupt ZAP’s green screen, we’ll be watching it all with a keen eye. For all of its woes across the years, ZAP still possesses some valuable assets that it could leverage into a profitable electric auto company.
Graphic courtesy of this very cool Flash timeline of ZAP’s stock at WIRED.