2008 Zap Xebra Review

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
2008 zap xebra review

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 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 your carbon footprint; that’s about a-tenth of the costs 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). 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.

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  • Chris Jordan Chris Jordan on Feb 09, 2013

    Fascinating that this appeared 4 years after my first comment. Aptera, Zenn, Tria, Eco Motos. Th!nk - - - fail fail fail fail fail. That Germen City-El never made it to the US so luckily I sold mine before it fell apart. A Xebra (right hand drive cargo PU) was advertised for sale recently. Thanks for the recall and junk status mention Cookie. I was interested, and it might be a disasterous vehicle... I do not want to gamble!

  • Eyeflyistheeye Eyeflyistheeye on Jan 13, 2017

    In 2006, Al Gore came out with An Inconvenient Truth. Being an active Democrat at the time (I voted for BTSR's boy in 2016 though), Gore was having parties for the global warming awareness event he was having in conjunction with AIT. So, I go to the house of this pretentious, yuppie couple in Culver City who made art deco films. Lo and behold, they have a Xebra in the driveway and are asking people to take a test drive and see the future. So, I take them up on their offer. I have no idea how the DOT let these things on the road. The flimsiness of the Xebra was downright scary. Any major-brand golf kart has better dynamics. The entire reason Zap existed was to fleece greenies out of their money and gave electric cars a horrible black eye. The Leaf was a revelation compared to this thing even though it's a laughing stock now. Not to mention the Tesla, i3 and Bolt/Volt. To those cars, the Xebra wasn't even Australopithecus, it was a protozoa compared to Homo Sapiens.

  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.
  • Stuart de Baker I didn't bother to read this article. I'll wait until a definitive headline comes out, and I'll be surprised if Tesla actually produces the Cybertruck. It certainly looks impractical for both snowy and hot sunny weather.
  • Stuart de Baker This is very interesting information. I was in no danger of buying a Tesla. I love my '08 Civic (stick), and it feels just as responsive as when I bought it 11 years ago with 35k on the clock (now 151k), and barring mishaps, I plan to keep it for the next 25 years or so, which would put me into my mid-90s, assuming I live that long. On your information, I will avoid renting Teslas.
  • RHD The only people who would buy this would be those convinced by a website that they are great, and order one sight-unseen. They would have to have be completely out of touch with every form of media for the last year. There might actually be a few of these people, but not very many. They would also have to be completely ignorant of the Hyundai Excel. (Vinfast seems to make the original Excel look like a Camry in comparison.)