January 14, 2005 Pioneering automotive company ZAP may well be embroiled in a legal battle with Daimler Chrysler’s smart, but it has not slowed the expansion of its fleet of intriguing and economical cars. Amongst the cars which had their first public showing at the recent San Francisco International Auto Show were the WORLDCAR, Obvio! and XEBRA. The three-seater (side-by-side) Brazilian-made Obvio 012 and Obvio 828(main image) look to be the pick of the litter, powered by a Tritec 1.6 litre four cylinder motor (as used in the MINI) using flexible fuel technology that enables the engines to run on gasoline and alcohol or any combination plus an additional electric drive – effectively making it the world’s first “trybrid” automobile that can switch between three energy sources. Both cars bristle with the latest thinking, such as a survival cell, (a la smart), McPherson struts all round, four big disk brakes, an immobile carputer and a CVT (Constantly variable transmission). The engines are available in 115 bhp standard output, with tuned versions available all the way up to a brutal 250 bhp. Mainly constructed of composite materials to enable the lightest possible result (750 kg – the MINI weighs 1150 kg), the 012 looks to have all the ingredients for a top seller, looking great, offering startling performance and ecological cred at a time when we are seeing the "greening" of the American market.

Alcohol made from sugar cane is becoming the fuel of choice in Brazil, and some other South American countries -- so much so that global sugar prices hit a seven-year high this fall. Regular car engines will run on a 10 percent blend of alcohol and gasoline. But by using computer sensors that adjust to whatever mix is in the tank, flex car engines run on ethanol, gasoline, or any combination of the two.

ZAP recently bought into Brazilian automaker OBVIO! Automotoveiculos S.P.E. Ltda., of Rio de Janeiro, and is now the exclusive North American distributor for the OBVIO! Range. ZAP plans to make OBVIO! available through its dealer network by 2007.

The 828 is expected to sell for US$14,000 when pre-reservation deliveries begin in Q3, 2006.

The Obvio!’s bodyshell and integrated chassis form a monocoque cell structure for occupant protection, and will feature high torsion and flexional stiffness due to the integrated construction. The Obvio!’s Monocoque chassis is bonded together with the body shell’s high-protection structure in a special process of reinforced composites in RTM Light – Resin Transfer Molding.

Both Obvio!s use a ZF Ecotronic Continuosly Variable Transmission (CVT) which offers two modes – a stepless automatic or six-speed electronic "manual" with paddle shift levers on the steering wheel. This paddle set-up is identical to that used in Formula One, making it easier to change gear on bends and in tricky situations, without having to adjust the revs or taking your hands off the wheel.

A CVT has no defined gear ratios and operates the engine closer to maximum efficiency at all times. We’ve previously written about CVTs on Honda’s Griffon, Elysium and DN-01 concept motorcycles, plus we’ve tested Suzuki’s Bergman and Benelli’s Adiva, both of which used CVTs. Dodge's Caliber world car will also use a CVT.

Obvio! claims the CVT offers a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency compared with the traditional gearbox and is 10% quicker than a conventional automatic transmission. The XEBRA

With the idea of saving gas on everyone’s mind these days, ZAP also unveiled its new XEBRA, one of the world's only production all-electric cars. U.S. consumers will have the first chance to order this unique four-passenger vehicle for under US$10,000 as ZAP sets up distribution in the United States through its authorized dealers.

ZAP has entered into a manufacturing contract with a Chinese automaker to produce the three-wheeled Xebra aimed at filling the need for gas-free, all-electric cars that are practical and affordable. ZAP Chairman Gary Starr says that the XEBRA project is the offspring of more than three decades of thought and evolution in electric transportation and designed to meet the needs of today's drivers.

"We designed the XEBRA to be unlike anything else on the market," said Starr. "The use and purpose of electric vehicles is different than gas cars, so the wheel did need to be invented."

ZAP calls the new XEBRA a 'City Car,' a unique design suitable for urban, non-freeway driving, on account of a limited top speed of 40 mph (65km/h) and a range of 40 miles (65 km). The car is ideal for households that want an inexpensive vehicle for running errands around the city. Unlike the petrol/gas hybrids currently on the market in the U.S., the ZAP car needs no gas at all -- just plug into any conventional outlet.


ZAP also showcased the WORLDCAR, one of the only commercially available hydrogen-powered automobiles in the world. Through ZAP's joint venture with Anuvu of Sacramento, California, the WORLDCAR utilizes a hydrogen-electric hybrid drive train.

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