SANTA ROSA, CA – In September 2006, Ehab Youssef, an intellectual property lawyer in San Jose, California, was shopping for a new car. With gas prices surging above $3 a gallon, Youssef and his wife were looking to offset their Toyota Land Cruiser with something more fuel-efficient. One day, while researching vehicles on the Web, he came across ZAP Corporation, according to Wired News.

ZAP was selling the Xebra, an electric three-wheel buggie imported from China. The Xebra wasn't quite ready to take on the freeways of Silicon Valley, but it cost less than $10,000. Then there was the Obvio 828, a vehicle from Brazil capable of running on pure ethanol. It was expected to reach showrooms in 2007. ZAP also had a $99,000 fuel-cell vehicle called the Worldcar in the pipeline, and the company said it would soon be selling the Smart Fortwo — the dramatically designed, Mercedes-engineered micro-vehicle from DaimlerChrysler. The Fortwo ran on gasoline but got 37 miles to the gallon and fit in nicely with ZAP's eco line.

Youssef also learned about the company's planned supercar, ZAP-X, from ZAP's chair, Gary Starr, when he visited the company's headquarters that fall. The all-electric crossover SUV would not only produce 644 horsepower, rocketing it from 0-60 miles per hour in a Ferrari-esque 4.8 seconds, but would travel 350 miles on a single 10-minute charge.

In November, Youssef and his wife bought a ZAP franchise territory covering most of Los Gatos, a wealthy town near San Jose. The cost was $100,000.

However, Youssef soon faced one disappointment after another. First, when he went to ZAP headquarters to pick up the new Smart car he intended to drive as his personal vehicle, it wasn't ready. DaimlerChrysler had told ZAP more than a year earlier that it wouldn't sell the California company any of its vehicles. Then Youssef learned that the Obvio would not be available anytime soon. Next, he discovered that the all-electric Xebra sedan did not come close to achieving the 40-mph speed and 40-mile range ZAP claimed. It stalled on steep hills and, worst of all, had a range of less than 20 miles.

Of course, there was always the ZAP-X. But Youssef was soon told that the vehicle may never come.