Zap to make electric sedan based on its sports car

Derivative of the Zap-X sport SUV to feature unprecedented combination of efficiency and low cost, carmaker says.

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
2 min read
Electric-vehicle maker Zap says it will come out with an electric car that will go about 100 miles on a charge but cost only $30,000, a combination of features that so far hasn't been achieved.

Whether Zap will succeed is an open question.

According to the company, the sedan will be a derivative of the Zap-X, a sport SUV scheduled to hit the market toward the end of 2008. The Zap-X is designed to go 350 miles without a charge and from 0 mph to 60 mph in about 4.8 seconds.

Zap says the sedan, whose top speed will be about 100 mph, will likely come out before the sport SUV. More details about the car will be offered at Zap's shareholder meeting on July 29, the carmaker said.

Zap-X illustration
Credit: Zap
The Zap-X sport SUV, as illustrated
on the Zap Web site home page.

The price-to-performance metrics Zap is touting for its cars exceed the figures that other electric-car manufacturers are touting. The Tesla Roadster, for instance, costs $92,000 to $98,000 and goes 200 miles before needing a charge. Its maker, Tesla Motors, plans to come out with sedans in 2009, but these cars will cost between $50,000 and $70,000 and not go as far as on a single charge as the Roadster.

The high prices of electric cars are largely due to the cost of lithium ion batteries--the power source for electric car manufacturers. Making an electric Honda Accord would require about $30,000 in batteries, estimates Ian Wright, who heads up electric sports car maker Wrightspeed.

As a result, many observers in the electric-car industry are skeptical about Zap's chances for success. The company so far has mainly sold scooters and electric bikes in relatively small numbers. Zap also sells the Xebra, an electric car that runs on conventional batteries that tops out at around 35 miles an hour.

Zap CEO Steve Schneider, though, asserts that Zap has enlisted a number of partners on the project. Group Lotus in England is helping with the car's design. The company is also working with some of the new entrants in the lithium ion battery market.

Companies trying to build lithium ion batteries for cars include Valence Technology, Altair Nanotechnologies and A123 Systems. In an interview in January, Schneider acknowledged that he was familiar with both Valence and Altair.

The relatively long range of Zap's cars comes from the design of the car, he has said. The Zap-X and the sedan run on hub motors--placed on the wheels--a design feature that frees up a lot of space to put batteries in the car.