The battery-powered Zap Alias looks kind of like the Batmobile, and it will supposedly move like it, too, achieving an estimated zero to 60 time of 6.7 seconds. Zap CEO Steve Schneider claims it might even reach 60 in four seconds, but that’s “unofficial.”

This is not your great-grandfather’s electric car. It’s a two-seater designed by Britain’s Lotus Engineering, and it has only three wheels, so the government classifies it as a motorcycle. That loophole makes it much easier to get the Alias licensed and on the road in the U.S. Schneider says he’ll be delivering the first cars (hand-built in Ohio) to customers within six months. Right now there are only three lithium-ion-powered Aliases (to be officially rolled out at the National Automobile Dealers Association annual meeting in New Orleans on Jan. 24).

Zap currently sells the three-wheeled Xebra, but that one is for the slow lane. It has a top speed of 40 mph. Massachusetts has given Zap some licensing problems with it, but those were rectified at the very end of last year.

Zap has a colorful and somewhat checkered history. It announced big plans to be the U.S. retailer of Smart cars, and received what Schneider describes as 150,000 advance orders, but delivered only approximately 1,000 Euro cars converted to U.S. specifications before Roger Penske took over as the official importer.

The company also made a big splash when it said it would produce the high-performance Zap-X electric crossover vehicle. Zap claimed that with electric motors in all four wheels, the car would offer an astounding 644 horsepower and 155 miles per hour. Despite this, it would travel 350 miles on a battery charge. Some sources reported that the Zap-X would be on the road in 2008, but Alex Campbell of Zap says, "I would never have issued a release date because the car never entered full engineering. It literally never existed except as a feasibility study."

And a feasibility study is what it still is. Schneider says the Zap-X “is still there. It was also designed by Lotus, and we paid a lot of money to them. But economic times have changed. We’re concentrating on the Alias, which we can get to market a lot quicker.”

Zap’s current major funder (and company chairman) is Dubai-based car dealer Eqbal Al Yousuf, who has reportedly invested $16 or $17 million. Schneider has just come back from Dubai and is enthused. “Twenty-five percent of the world’s cranes are there in Dubai,” he said. “They’re making manmade islands — everything is over the top.”

For the long term, Zap says it is partnering with Integrity Automotive to build the Alias in Franklin, Ky. Schneider sees a U.S. annual market for 5,000 to 10,000 Aliases.

If Zap can get the Alias on the market, perhaps it can open a new chapter in the company’s up-and-down history.

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