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Zap had some things easier and some things harder at the Shakedown stage of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize last week. The team's three-wheeled Alias vehicle easily passed the accident avoidance course at 46 miles per hour and, given that the X-Prize's events at this point are pass/fail, didn't need to try again at a higher speed. Driver Al Unser Jr., though, was convinced that the Alias is capable of passing the test as a higher speed. The Alias also passed the 60-0 mph deceleration test on the first attempt, but the car's clutch was slipping "quite seriously," in Unser's words, and so had a hard time passing the 0-60 acceleration test (as of late Wednesday, we're still waiting for an update).

Zap, unlike some of the other teams at the Michigan International Speedway, is actually selling electric vehicles while the competition is going on. Zap co-founder and chairman emeritus Gary Starr said:
We've had to switch projects in mid-stream a few times because we're multiple projects. We have an on-going business that we're shipping electric vehicles out every week. We're working seven days a week, 12-15 hour days now.
This pace will continue for the foreseeable future. In the window between the Shakedown stage and Knockout stage in late June, Zap will be working on the USPS electric delivery van, an electric taxi project and the regular delivery of the company's electric vehicle line. "We're doing a lot for a little company," Starr said.

But back to the Alias. The vehicle Zap is using in the competition was built in 45 days, Unser said, because Zap didn't decided to enter the X-Prize until quite late. The trike is still evolving, "They're always tweaking," Starr said, adding:
We designed this vehicle to be very cost-effective. Some people got a half-million dollar motor drive systems around here. Our goal is to produce a vehicle we can produce in very small quantities for a reasonable price, so we don't have the biggest motor. We might have the smallest motor here, but it's also one of the lowest-cost ones. Originally, that was the design goal of not only our [vehicle] but also the X-Prize. It's changed a little bit over time. They have various performance tests that go beyond Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. That wasn't originally our path, but now we're adding and altering things to do it a little bit differently.
Zap built the Alias to meet the FMVSS rules for motorcycles, but the X-Prize uses it's own blend of motorcycle and automobile rules. The Alias has a new reverse back-up light, for example. Motorcycles don't need back-up lights, but the three-wheeled trikes in the competition do need them. Starr said the rules were changed within the last two weeks or so.

Another change, this one decided on by the company, is that the car will likely have more powerful motors In the June knockout tests, Unser said, "and we're going to be more prepared." Unser added that what's happening during the shakedown is giving teams a chance to be ready next month:
It's about the X-Prize foundation learning about the competitors, letting the competitors learn about the X-Prize foundation and getting to see what's here, what's showing up.
Unser has had a relationship with Zap since January 2008. A friend turned him onto the Alias when it was still just a drawing (remember those days?) and, when the NADA convention happened in San Francisco that year, Zap invited him to attend. Since then:
it's an honor they asked me to drive it to begin with. It's wonderful to be a part of this whole X-Prize competition. Quite honestly, I feel the addiction to oil has to stop. If it doesn't stop, it's going to stop eventually with the reserves that we have [declining] so alternative fuels have to be on the forefront of automobiles.
Unser was recently in Sao Paolo, where he saw the result of pollution first-hand:
I'm seeing emissions everywhere now. It's something I do realize, as far a mainstream transportation, this is not going to happen in my generation, but maybe my grandchildren, or their grandchildren, electric cars or some type of alternative fuel will be the way of their transportation. So, to be a part of it, right now, is very exciting for me. I truly feel I'm part of history right now.


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Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.


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