Three-wheeler week wouldn’t be complete without a Zap Xebra. The Chinese-built Xebra surfed the 2006 – 2008 wave of EV enthusiasm, only to find itself all washed up once buyers realized what a piece junk it largely was. Frames hastily welded up from ungalvanized channel stock rusted out, bodies leaked, switches failed, and most of all, battery packs fried, often within months. By 2009, Xebra production ended, and Zap found other ways to perpetually tease its investors; most recently by partnering with the third-tier Chinese automobile builder Jonway, whose main products are gasoline-powered Toyota-clone SUVs. Not that it’s done much for Zap’s stock price, currently at $0.193, and flirting with all-time lows.
In March of 2008, I wrote the only real review of a Zap Xebra, a scathing one at that, which went viral and may (hopefully) have contributed to its demise. I’d like to think so, anyway. So rather than write some new text for this lovely Xebra sitting out front with the garbage, I’ll just re-run it here; a bit of a time capsule:
(written in 2008): According to GM Car Czar Bob Lutz, “The electrification of the automobile is inevitable.” Inevitability also applies to the sun going cold. But with rising gas prices, some of us old timers are getting impatient (having had our youthful appetite whetted by GM’s Electrovair way back in 1966). The Li-ion-powered Tesla Roadster is simultaneously sold out and yet not in production. Dozens of other miraculous EV’s are just a $5k deposit and an infinitely adjustable (and not so inevitable) delivery date away. Meanwhile, down at your local Zap dealer, the banner proclaims: “Saving the planet, One vehicle at a time.” Their Xebra is all charged-up and ready to roll.
The idea of the Xebra has certain compelling aspects. A “fill-up” cost as little as thirty-five cents. Its advertised top speed is 40mph. The (advertised) 30-mile range would do the job for a round-the-town errand mobile. And $11,200 buys approving looks from PC neighbors for reducing one’s carbon footprint; at one-tenth of the cost of a Tesla.
Anyway, I’m thinking Tesla’s got it all backwards. Why spend $125k for a Roadster AND a conventional car (a necessity for longer trips, going shopping, or picking up the folks at the airport)? Half that amount will put a Xebra on display in the driveway with enough left over to stash a Lotus, Boxster or ‘Vette in the garage. Run your errands all week for a penny per mile, and head for the hills on the weekend.
Unfortunately, Zap spends more time and energy on hyping vaporware (and its stock) than actually building functional vehicles, as documented in this scathing expose. Their web site entices eco-warriors with a cornucopia of EV’s offering blazing acceleration (0 -60 in 4.5 seconds) and miraculous range (240 miles). Delivery: TBD.
Zap’s stock peaked at $4 a share in 2004 with the announcement of its electric-conversion Smart car. After that program short-circuited, its stock began a protracted melt-down (currently $.58) (Update: now $.19). Desperate, Zap turned to China for something tangible to sell. Small electric three-wheelers are common and cheap there (about $3k), built in small factories that are anything but environmentally responsible. ZAP imports them with a hefty markup.
The Xebra’s questionable provenance is painfully evident. Its crudely finished fiberglass body is a rolling wart of huge panel gaps, wavy surfaces and rough edges. The tiny car’s interior unleashed a flood of childhood memories of being squeezed into an original Fiat 500, without the playful use of design and materials. The Xebra screams “kit car,” especially when checking out its primitive golf-cart mechanicals. Six conventional twelve-volt lead-acid batteries provide 72 volts to the 6.7hp (not a typo) coffee-can motor.
I arrived an hour too late to drive the one sedan at the dealer. The buyers were busy signing papers for the $16k heavily-optioned metallic-green apple of their eye. What did the extra $5k buy them? Air conditioning? Power windows? More power? Not available at any price. We’re talking “custom wiring,” an upgraded controller, LED lights, alloys and a custom paint-job that would make Earl Scheib proud.
Once I squeezed myself into the Xebra pick-up, I had to contort my legs to operate the two pedals located on the left side of the steering column. As I turned into traffic, I was overwhelmed by the sensation that I’ve just committed a youthful prank– stealing one of those electric garbage-can haulers from a convention center. And I’m having doubts whether I’m going to be able to outrun the security guard running after me.
Flat-out and level, the speedometer eventually finds an unsteady waver between thirty-two and thirty-four. A moderate hill quickly drops “speed” into the teens. Every bump, crack and pothole becomes an obstacle to avoid or regret. The motor whines like a hairdryer about to expire (the salesman admits the sedan is even noisier). I have no desire to check the actual range of this motorized wheelbarrow/hair-shirt. Which way is back to the convention center? Why does my xB suddenly feel like a Bentley?
A Xebra owners’ on-line forum reveals a consensus on range: 15 to 17 miles. And there are tales of endless woes of terrible build quality and material defects. Zap’s six month warranty is a small consolation. Discussions abound on ways to fix and improve the Xebra’s multitude of shortcomings. ZAP dealer Mark Higley bluntly responds to a damsel in distress with a dead Xebra: “I never recommend it as a primary source of transportation”.
The weekend Boxster is going to have to wait until someone builds my formula for a cheap urban electric errand-mobile: convert a $2500 Tata Nano (which looks downright spacious, well finished and safe compared to the Xebra), give it a genuine 30 mile range and a 45mph top speed, and price it at $8k to $10k. That’s so obvious, it should be inevitable.
Postscript: There were a number of Zaps around Eugene a few years back, when I shot the zebra-striped one. But the only one left is this magenta sedan, which is still functioning, a rolling relic of an era that now seems almost absurd. in the face of the EV currently available. Of course, it was probably no coincidence that Zap killed the Xebra shortly after the Nissan Leaf was announced. Zap prices plummeted; dealer were selling their stock for 50% or less of MSRP. Used Zap prices collapsed accordingly. Zap dealers, who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases, were also zapped.
With every new technology I suspect comes a new cast of opportunists. The eclectric car was no different. I think this might be no worse than some of the .coms or the solar panels that were good for heating hot water only from the early 80’s.
The thing about this is that the technology is there to do the job right and I absolutely hate it when I see the efforts that have been put forth. If a special ed classroom can make an EV that sort of works, (see curbside classic classroom EV) there is very little excuse for substandard efforts. When one looks at diesel electric trains and submarines a hybrid has little excuse for not satisfying urban needs even with lead acid batteries.
I’m done with the soapbox. Your turn.
This reminds me of Bricklin’s fling with the Subaru 360 more than anything else. These guys are the new importers, China is the new Japan. Also, these vehicles (with autorickshaw petrol engines) may still be for sale as the Snyder 600.
Have you noticed that the body is a clone of Daewoo/Chevy Matiz/Spark? This seems a popular body to clone in China, ever since Chery got away with it.
I presume you didnt like it Paul hardly surprising I reckon good shoes would be more usefull and a seniors mobility scooter preferable to drive. The little ute could be handy around the yard though the first trip to the dump would likely be its last.
Ah, the joys of the NEV/LSV fad. Between the fish-in-a-barrel reviews (here’s mine, on the Miles ZX40) and reporting on the corporate shenanigans, the NEV/LSV hawkers kept TTAC well-fed. It wasn’t until Peter Arnett tried to sell Chrysler on the ridiculous PeaPod Mobility concept (“We’re hoping that this becomes the new wave car for the younger set”) that the whole thing came crashing down. But then, so did just about everything else in 2009, as I recall.
Reflecting on those days, I wonder how the NEV wave affected planning for the current generation of major OEM EVs and Plugins. Did the ridiculous early-adopter premiums and performance shortcomings in those pre-recession days create unrealistic expectations about, I don’t know, demand for the Volt at a $40k price point? If I posed that question to a GM exec, I’m sure they’d smirk and say “these are two completely different vehicles”… but you know that back when Volt was being planned, folks had to be looking at the NEV market and thinking “If they’re selling anything at those prices, this is gonna be easy.”
Problem is, recessions tend to have a dramatic effect on market psychology. In these, more utility-oriented times, you have to be quite well-off (not to mention, highly motivated) to consider even the more moderate price and performance premiums of modern EVs (relative to NEVs).
Meanwhile, Miles is the only NEV hawker to make good on the sector’s implicit promise that NEV sales would eventually lead to “real cars” (albeit under a new corporate banner, CODA). They’re trying to sell an electrified, Chinese-built, old Mitsu-based compact with an 88-mile range for $38,145 before tax credits. They’ve lowered the battery capacity and price a little, but otherwise this is the Miles XS500 that was being hyped back in 2008.
Back then, they said they would make healthy profits at 10k units (which they saw coming as early as 2010) but expected 30k sales per year by now. It’s fascinating that, two years after the initial launch date, the performance and price are both a bit lower, but otherwise not much has changed beyond the new corporate parent (although I suspect their margins are thinner now, as I believe the interior received work). In any case, it’s clear that the EV still has a lot more maturing to do.
Surprisingly there are still several Zaps running around Salem. They had a big store here as well.
That’s where I tested the Zap; no dealers here. Like anything, they can be kept on the road, as long as there’s no salt to rust away the cheap frame. It’s not a bad basis for a EV-hobbyist-mobile; they’re probably dirt cheap to pick up now.
It’d be fun to drive one to the golf course, then drive it onto the golf course.
Sort of an Arnold Palmer version of the Amphicar.
I saw a few of these around Beijing last year. But even there, it looked like they were mostly being used as work hacks, tucked into alleyways behind construction yards, shops, etc. Didn’t look like anyone was using them as family cars.
Lay off Earl Schieb even he wouldn’t have made a car look that bad.. That looks a lot more like Maaco or a few of my down and dirty backyard specials (you know, fill the holse with spray foam, skim with bondo and paint it white:D )
Most golf carts went to 4 wheels a long time ago, why do they keep trying 3 wheels??
Re 3 wheels: If I recall, the regulations for “motorcycles” ie, anything with 2 or 3 wheels, are a lot looser than those for 4 wheeler “cars”.
This beast reminded me of the Corbin Sparrow that was tried in 1999 or so in Hollister, CA. Never saw one on the road, but it got a sorta favorable writeup from the San Jose Murky News. Looks like they went under around 2003 for quality/reliability/not-ready-for-prime-time problems.
Here’s a by someone who bought a few. As I recall, Corbin made his money doing aftermarket seats and accessories for motorcycles, and lost it on the EVs. Looks like someone named Myers is continuing the mess.
Hey Paul, how about a fast three wheeler? Spirit of America, perhaps? Saw it post Bonneville at a Chicago Auto Show.
Three wheeled cars can be licensed for the street as motorcycles, with few regulations. With four wheels all the federal standards apply and it’s a far more expensive proposition.
As an EV enthusiast these horrible little electric rickshaws make me sick. They bring the golf-cart EV stereotype to life. Good riddance. Thanks Paul for helping to put it down.
My previous comment got eaten (oh well, life on the dialup intertubes), but yet another of the 3 wheel failures was the Corbin Sparrow. As I recall it launched 1999 and failed (chapter 7 bankruptcy) around 2003. Motor controller issues, along with “financial and employee issues” helped Corbin turn his successful motorcycle seat company into a failed vehicle company. The foam-filled fiberglass shell looked like a good idea.
Never saw one on the road, though the San Jose Murk had a nice article when it came out. At least no taxpayers were harmed in that fiasco.
There’s a page on it at corbinsparrow.com–it’s done by a toy collector/enthusiast.
For what it’s worth, Paul, any chance of a Car Show Classic on the Spirit of America? Fast three wheelers would be fun.
wot a pile of shit just like the other 3 wheeled ev pile of shit a few pages back,lol you cannot offer rubbish like this to the public i,m amazed it got it road worthyness certificate ,lol its bloody dangerous..come on when is a car company going to offer a small fun stylish practical cool ev that people are gonna want to buy something real world that has a 500 mile range takes 10 mins to charge and dosent cost 40 grand the first company to do so will start the ev revolution.
Short answer to the question: probably never. Energy density for batteries just can’t compare to gasoline (in terms of miles per kilowatthour, or gallon). Short of a major change in how electricity is produced and stored (got a Mr. Fusion?), getting a lot of miles out of a battery won’t be easy, or cheap, or able to fit in a small fun cool EV.
However, given a hybrid, that’s doable. The MkI Prius was running 50+ MPG and could go from San Francisco to LA on a fillup. There’s your revolution.
> got a Mr. Fusion?
A lotta folks don’t realise that to get energy out of a battery, an equivalent amount of energy has to go into it first, and the process has to be reversible. In petrol engines, energy that has been stored for millions of years is irreversibly extracted. You can’t beat hydrocarbons for energy density. Except when we have cold fusion. 🙂
“got a Mr. Fusion?”
Not yet. But the fact that the energy source behind electricity is convertible (depending on the infrastructure) suggests a lot of hope for the future of EVs, compared to fossil fuels whose less-efficient source is fixed. That, and the amount of torque that’s available from 0 RPM.
Can’t wait for the day when EVs are available with an (artificially) stick-shifted transmission, and (artificilally, Landspeeder-y) enhanced noises, to keep the driver awake. They aren’t there yet in terms of driver involvement, but I’ll be 100% on board when they are.
WELL I MUST SAY CC 3 WHEELER WEEK HAS BEEN VERY LAME..come on grim ev 3 wheel monstositys does not make 3 wheeler week,you had a picture of a reliant regal [no its not a robin] yet you havent done anything on reliant ie the regal ,robin kitten ect nor anything on fabulas BOND BUG ,or even the early mazda 3 wheel trucks ..let alone the citroen lomax race car or even the sinclaire c5..come on cc ,i love this site its my fav site but do 3 wheeler week properly i was realy lookin forward to it ,lol..dxxxxxxxxx
update The US govt [NHTSA] had a hearing on zap aka ZAP jonway now in SEPT 2012. in NOVEMBER 2012 THEY CAME OUT WITH THE HEARING RESULTS THAT FOUND ZAP GUILTY OF NOT REPAIRING ANY VEHICLES despite being NOTIFIED of the RECALL in 2009. THEY ALSO SAID ZAP MUST REFUND ALL OWNERS OF RECORD 3100 DOLLARS . [IF YOU HAVEN’T DITCHED IT ALREADY] PLUS THEY HAVE SUSPENDED THEIR IMPORT LICENSE FOR VEHICLES BECAUSE ZAP DID NOT FOLLOW FMVSS RULES WHEN THEY ACTED AS THE IMPORTER OF THIS VEHICLE.
ZAP DIDN’T GET ENGINEERING TESTS UNTIL 3 MONTHS BEFORE THE SCHEDULED NHTSA HEARING. THOSE ENGINEERING TESTS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DONE BEFORE THE VEHICLE WAS IMPORTED IN 2008.
3 YEARS PRIOR TO SELLING…. IF THOSE TESTS HAD BEEN DONE THEN THERE IS NO WAY THE VEHICLE WOULD HAVE PASSED AND BEEN IMPORTED= legally.
GUESS WHAT COMPANY IS ON THE ‘NHTSA RADAR’ FOR ANY MORE IMPORTED PRODUCTS INTO THE USA – ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY HAVE DEMONSTRATED NON COMPLIANCE TWICE- ONCE WITH DAIMLER BENZ ‘SMART CARS’ NOW WITH THIS ZAP XEBRA WHICH IS ACTUALLY MADE BY A SEPARATE QUINDJI CHINESE COMPANY, RE BADGED AS A ‘ZAP’ AND IMPORTED TO THE USA. IT MAY NOT DO ANYTHING FOR YOU EXCEPT WARN YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM ANY MORE OF THIS COMPANIES PRODUCTS….
ZAP MANAGEMENT IS TRYING TO DELAY THE ORDER BECAUSE NHTSA ALSO ORDERED THAT ZAP MUST PAY FOR ALL TRANSPORTATION COSTS BACK TO CALIFORNIA AS WELL AS ISSUE THE REFUNDS. ZAAP ARGUEMENT IS THAT THE ZAPS ARE NOT WORTH 3100 THAT THEY ARE WORTH LESS THEN THAT, SEE HOW ZAP VALUES YOUR INVESTMENT…
2 OUT OF THE 3 last still existing ZAP dealers have filed ‘litigation’ currently against the company concerning these refunds. BETTER GET IN LINE TO FILE… the stock price has dropped to under 10 cents…and even though chinese investors are currently propping the company up. If they don’t pay these penalties and fines , I don’t see this company ever selling another..so called ‘car’ or ev vehicle or anything except a untested scooter in the USA in the near future
READ ARTICLE IN Bloomberg dated jan 2013. ZAP is to buy these vehicles back at the value of 3100 plus pay all transportation costs to get them back to Santa Rosa, California and they are required to change the tilte of all these vehicles to ‘JUNK automobile’ status.
Wonder if the NHTSA is going to notify all the DMV’S regarding this alert. ZAP hired a engineering firm after the fact and the engineering firm could get the vehicles to pass the motorcycle braking standard either. You may not be able to register these vehicles in the future if that gets out.
I have one of these. People didn’t understand what they were for. They’re not commuters, unless your commute is really short. But what they’re great for is a quick run to the store, the post office, all those neighborhood trips of a couple miles. Those trips are really hard on an internal combustion car — it never gets up to operating temperature, the oil doesn’t flow well, water condenses in the exhaust pipe and rusts it out, and so forth. Electric cars don’t care about temperature. They just run till the battery gives out.
I used it for quite a few years and had a lot of fun playing with it. I’m ready to move on, and in fact I have the thing up on Craigslist now, for significantly less than $3100. But if ZAP will give me $3100 for it, maybe I should hold onto it. Hahaha..
Hello All : ) I know this thread is realllyyy old, but maybe… hehe I am one of the CRAZY people who owns a ZAP Xebra PK ! I am in process of rewiring it and desperately need to look at the PK of another owner to identify a few connections. I am hoping someone in Salem or Eugene still has theirs and I can come a take some pictures etc…. Please contact me by email. K.email@example.com or Cell 1 541 248 0264 Thank you in advance! : )