Despite what Kermit the Frog says, it’s pretty easy to be green these days. America is loving green so much that it has almost become unpatriotic to question the credentials of anyone who claims to be promoting light-impact products. Wired.com recently took that step, uncovering unethical and probably illegal business tactics at ZAP! Corporation, one of America’s largest all-electric vehicle companies, based in Santa Rosa, CA.
ZAP! has been in business since 1991 when garage-tinkerer Jim McGreen invented electric conversion kits for bicycles. He dubbed his new company ZAP (zero air pollution) Power Systems and started looking for investors. Gary Starr was the first to write a check, and the company incorporated in 1994. Starr was a solar car pioneer who was asked to leave the company he helped to create, U.S. Elecricar — marking an ominous beginning to the company.
ZAP! grew quickly after McGreen invented the Zappy, a standup scooter that Kevin Spacey rode on the David Letterman show. Revenues were over $1.4 million by 1998. Revenues did not bring profits, however, and Starr and McGreen had a major falling out over whether to move production overseas. Starr maneuvered to increase the company’s board to seven members, giving Starr enough votes to get rid of McGreen. Starr succeeded, and by the end of 1999, McGreen, who had founded the company in his garage, was gone – no HP story to tell here.