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ZAP’s New Flex-Fuel Minicars

The Obvio! 828

ZAP has broadened its future minicar offerings by becoming the exclusive North American distribution for a pair of new flex-fuel minicars to be produced by Obvio! in Brazil. The two companies expect to unveil prototypes of the two in the US by the end of 2005. Initial plans are to roll out the vehicles in 2007.

Unlike its approach with the Americanized Smart Car, where ZAP takes the responsibility for converting imported smarts to meet US requirements, ZAP, which has taken a 20% stake in the company, will work closely with Obvio to ensure the vehicles are fully compliant when they leave the plant.

The Obvio! 012

Under the terms of the agreement, ZAP is ordering 50,000 vehicles from the Brazilian company during the three year period following initial delivery.

Both models, the 828 and the 012, may be small, but they feature an engine more than twice as large as that in the smart car: a 1.6-liter Tritec engine mated with a ZF Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

Tritec started out in 1997 as a joint venture, based in Brazil, between Chrysler and the Rover Group (then a subsidiary of BMW) to design a new small straight-4 engine for small cars. When BMW sold Rover Group, BMW retained the stake in Tritec.

Chrysler designed the Tritec engine, which is related to the 2.0-liter Chrysler Neon engine. The Tritec comes in three versions: 1.4-liter, 1.6-liter and supercharged 1.6-liter, and has been used in models of the Mini, the Neon and the PT Cruiser. (BMW will replace the Tritec in the Mini with an engine it is developing with PSA Peugeot Citroën.)

Both Obvio! models offer a “low consumption” model with an 85 kW (114 hp) entry-level version of the Tritec with combined estimated fuel consumption (using gasoline) of 33 mpg US (29.4 mpg city; 40.69 mpg highway). Obvio says it will also offer 170- and 250-hp versions.

ZAP’s Minicars
ObvioAmericanized smart
1The EPA disagrees with ZAP’s 60 mpg figure. (Earlier post.)
Engine displacement (cc) 1,598 698
Power kW (hp) 85 (114) 45 (60)
Combined fuel economy (mpg US) 33 601

The result is a car more along the lines of a zippy Mini, rather than a fuel-sipping smart. (The 2006 Mini Cooper for the US delivers 31 mpg combined.)

The major difference, though, is the flex-fuel (gasoline or ethanol blend) capability of the Brazilian cars.


Lance Funston

The Obvio 012 is a very striking vehicle for styling. Gas mileage is nothing to write home about but with Ethanol perhaps a marginally better eco-choice.


It reminds me of a squashed AMC Gremlin.


What are we looking at in terms of price? I'm trying to figure out why somebody would buy one of these instead of a Ford Focus or some other fairly cheap 30+ MPG vehicle...


More BS from ZAP. Whatever...


The Obvio 012 has a pretty cool design, reminds me of Lexus concept from "Minority Report".
But the 828 is almost the ugliest car on earth. Who should buy this thing?
Anyway, MPG is unacceptable.


Why does a car this size need a 1.6L engine?

If it gets 33mpg with gasoline, just imagine how bad the mileage is running on E85.

little shop

There are far better small cars in Europe, and I thought the ugliest was the Renault Twingo. The Twingo looks good compared to the 828 and apparently gets better mpg and of course its probably cheaper.

I applaud zap in TRYING but their gas cars seem irelivent. Why get a small overpriced smart that only gets a few more mpg then the Prius? I like the smart but its just to expensive at $20k+ when brought in through an importer like zap.


Good grief! is that thing safe to drive on standard roads? looks like it would crumple like an aluminum can if it hit a speedbump too hard!


Hehe,. The obvio 828 is not ugly. Click on the link to see a bigger picture. Reminds me of a micro machine (the Hotwheels toy).
If I was made of money I'd buy it and put an RX8 rotary engine in it (because it might fit). But since I'm poor I'll agree with Little Shop and Chuckie's comments.


Uh, hello....it runs on F'ing ethanol or gas. Can a Ford Focus do that? Then shut it.

Viva le Brazil!

Giles Dufour

It remind me of the Smart. When the french company got into a technical bankruptcy for not paying the engines supplier (Italian), they raised the price and start exporting it to Canada with a limitation on availability in order to keep the price up. Nice deal n'est-ce pas? I suspect a similar fate for those cars.


Rip Goelet

The U.S. grows more corn than anywhere else in the world. Corn produces the greatest alcohol (ethanol) content percentage of any biomass used to make fuel, cosiderably higher than sugar cane which is used to fuel flex cars in Brazil (cars burning either a blend of gas and alcohol or just plain alcohol) and is extremely popular in that country. Ethanol is cheep to produce in the midwest and we have an over abundance of corn which is usually distilled into corn syrup and then used as a crappy sweetner in all the foods we love to hate. Talk about a goddamn conspiricy. Alcohol based fuels are so much better for the environment. What gives? Are we that stupid that we let the government get away with this obvious manipulation of an unused natural resourse that is cost effective and homegrown?


Ethanol from Corn is a poor choice. Just think of it as being a temporary patch due to political reasons. There are better ways. Here's a note I received from an expert:

Ethanol (aka grain alcohol) is made from corn starch currently. That's the stuff inside the kernel. Production has soared in recent years thanks to
high oil prices, low corn prices, and generous state and federal policies that encourage its production. Congress just passed a law requiring 5 billion gallons of production by 2010, up from about 2.5 billion now.

My foundation is launching an effort to promote making ethanol from cellulose rather than starch. To do this requires using enzymes to convert the sugars present in cellulose into the type of sugar present in starch.
There is one plant in commercial operation doing this presently, a company called Iogen (majority owned by Shell) in Canada. Iogen is considering opening a second plant in Idaho using wheat straw. We hope that advances in biotech will drive down the cost of the enzymes and make this process more competitive.

Why do we hope that? Because the world supply of cellulose is enormous compared to the world supply of corn starch. Cellulose is found in grasses like switchgrass, in woods like poplar and willow, in garbage, and in agricultural wastes like corn stalks. All of these are available at extremely low cost and in large quantities. Some take much less energy to
grow and process than corn starch, so yield much more energy. Because of this, they also reduce global warming emissions more effectively than cornstarch ethanol.

Estimates of maximum US ethanol production from corn starch go up to about 10 billion gallons, or about 8% of US motor fuel demand. After this it starts to compete with corn's primary use, being fed to cows. This would drive up prices for meat, milk, and cheese, not to mention the other outputs like corn sweeteners.

Corn requires substantial energy and chemical inputs, and has serious effects on wildlife habitat, soil erosion, and water quality. Switchgrass (and other prairie grasses) are the opposite on every count: low energy and chemical inputs, they ARE wildlife habitat, they BUILD soil, and they IMPROVE water quality.

If ethanol from cellulose were cost competitive it could produce up to 20-30% of current motor fuel demand. Combined with more efficient vehicles
it could take a serious bite out of US oil consumption, oil imports, pollution, and global warming emissions.

So, you cannot produce ethanol from switchgrass in your garage unless you are a biochemist. You could use corn starch I guess: this is called "a still." Moonshiners used them to make whiskey from cornstarch. Or you
could buy whiskey at the store and put that in your tank.

And yes, farmers could use biofuels to run their tractors which would reduce fossil fuel inputs to corn farming. And trains and trucks could run on
biodiesel to reduce fossil fuel inputs to shipping corn. And processors could replace natural gas and electricity with bioenergy inputs. But first we need to produce lots of biofuels.

And presumably the many new ethanol plants being built now are meeting stringent state and federal environmental rules. Like the one near Gowrie, Iowa.

To learn more, NRDC has a nice report on cellulosic ethanol on their web site, www.nrdc.org


Check out their website at
I drive a Scion xB...so I obviously like ugly cars. But check out all the features of the 828 for a projected price of $14,000! It's crazy. Mid engine. Rear wheel drive. Carputer. iMobile. Scissor doors. CVT transmission. 170 HP in a 1300 pound vehicle? That's awesome.


Here in Indonesia there is a lot of research going into the possible use of palm oil as a form of automotive and industrial fuel....a renewable green resource. They expect to have the details worked out by early 2008. The company doing this research is Musim Mas, the largest producer of palm oil in the country. They are active ecologists, who recognise the complications of balancing the fine line between business exploitation and smart business.

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