Zap teams with Lotus for electric sports car

What do you get when you combine a Lotus concept car with a sports car's electric motor? An electric vehicle that packs a punch.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
4 min read
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.

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.