Nicolas Zart is our resident electric car and electric vehicle expert here on CarNewsCafe. He’s been covering the electric vehicle industry since about 2007-2008 when he started his own website, ElectricNick. (Read the 5 reasons why you need to read ElectricNick.) While it might seem obvious now that electric cars were a growing industry, back then it was not. So, since Nicolas helped co-found this car news magazine and he was one of the first “EV journalists” out there I decided he’d be a great person to interview this week.
What got Nicolas interested in electric cars and electric vehicles? What makes this Frenchman tick? How’s living in America for a European? Find out in my interview below.
Adam Yamada-Hanff – So Nicolas tell us about yourself and your background? You’re from one of those funny European countries, France, right? 🙂
Nicolas Zart – Nope, I’m just an Earthling. Plant Earth is my home. Where I was born is irrelevant. The accent might give it away once in a while, and the city I was born is known for its resolute stubbornness. And the city I was born has only been French for the pas 175 years, hardly French, and even less Italian.
AYH – 🙂 What was it like growing up in France?
NZ – I was good, and very healthy. I lived in a small village in the South of France at the foot of a huge mountain. I learned how to ride anything with wheels fast, downhills and without a helmet. I wear helmets these days.
AYH – Can you tell me some differences between the U.S. and France? Maybe some things that are not obvious or well known.
NZ – I think the main difference, which is more of a European difference with the U.S. is that they haven’t had as easy as we have it here. Gasoline is expensive and Europe is not a place where you can achieve your wildest dreams. The U.S. is much easier, although that is unfortunately changing here as well. I would say education is much tougher and they force you to formulate an opinion and defending early on. That’s why people have the impression the French are so condescending. They are taught to have an opinion and argue it out rationally. I guess that would be the biggest difference I find with living here in the U.S.
AYH – When you originally came here as a teenager, you used to get excited because girls would come up to you and try to speak a little French. Can you share what got “Lost in Translation?” and what got you so happy and excited?
NZ – When you’re a precocious 11 year year old being yanked from a quaint 1,500 population village in the South of France to a place half hour north of New York City, a few things are bound to leave an indelible impression on you. At the time, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?” (this roughly translates into English as “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?”) was playing and I thought how sexually liberated this country was. I found out otherwise, until college.
Overall, education was a freeing experience here compared to the harsh and rigid European systems. I was able to take philosophy classes when I was thirteen, which led to my life long taste for Buddhism, meditation and ancient philosophies.
AYH – Is it true that French girls don’t shave or is that just an old urban myth?
NZ – That’s a hormonal question, but I would ask, as much as American girls are seen as Look, But Don’t Touch? Nah, these are old and abused cliches. In fact, I’ve met more German girls who don’t shave than French. These are tired and abused cliches that your generation should laugh at and see it as a vestige of an old dated misogynistic world, hopefully, well over.
AYH – What initially sparked your interest in writing and covering electric cars and electric vehicles? You started covering these topics long before it became mainstream on ElectricNick and this was before there was a ton of interest from the public or large automakers.
NZ – I was born around old cars. Even back then, it was off the beaten path. My father was German and loved American and British cars. We had old 1930 Fords, MGs, and many cars I don’t recall. The ones that excited me most were their friends who collected Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and of course, Ferrari. I remember seeing the back end of a Bugatti they were restoring in the sixties, or early seventies and thinking it was the wildest thing I had ever seen. It looked like a tinkering toy ready to let you escape to outer space. It was a defining moment.
After that I was about to buy a Triumph GT6 when someone turned me on to Alfa Romeos. That was it. I was hooked. Affordable, fun to drive, well poised, contrary to belief, easy to maintain. Italian performance cars are great, but you must know how to maintain them, which was not the case for most people who abused them. Hence the bad reputation.
I was bored to tears with cars in the late eighties, nineties, and it culminated in the early 2000 as an industry that was rudderless. Bigger, mainstream, and mot cup holder than common sense would dictate. I love old cars because they had passion, were quirky and had that pioneering feel to them. Modern cars were MBA templates on how to appeal to everyone and please no one. The spark was lost.
That is until I test drove an AC Propulsion eBox. AC Propulsion is the company that gave Martin Eberhard and Elon Musk the idea to create an electric car. After that, I test drove an Tesla Roadster and the light went on. Finally I could have a car I could charge with clean solar panels, with more torque than a muscle car, that was quiet, civilized and still had enough oomph to have oodles of fun. What’s not to like about that? I had to write about it.
AYH – What’s been the best electric vehicle you’ve driven so far?
NZ – I would say it has to be the Tesla Roadster. I love small convertible. I don’t care about big bloated cars. Another one that really surprised me was the Honda Fit EV. My Porsche friend called it the “happy car”. It’s too bad Honda didn’t continue developing that car. GM’s Spark EV was fun also, and Nissan’s 2014 LEAF has vastly improved. Probably the one I liked most after the Roadster was the BMW i3.
AYH – What’s been the most memorable experience in your writing career?
NZ – I met a lot of interesting people and talking to them was great. I met [Alan] Mullaly and had a good conversation with him. He’s just a good guy. One of the highlight of my career was when Michelin hired me to cover EVS26 (Electric Vehicle Symposium). I met many Michelin engineers and was greatly impressed with the company. Meeting Lord Drayson and chatting with him was enlightening. Probably when The Examiner and TorqueNews asked me to write for them. It was early on and my writing style was… not that great.
It’s a very difficult question to answer, because I also remember stumbling into this event and test driving the Alfa Romeo 8C Competitzione while talking to many race drivers.
AYH – What’s your secret to being a successful Electric Vehicle (EV) journalist? I’m sure a lot of people would like to be where are you now.
NZ – The success part is difficult to answer. It really depends on your interpretation of the word success. Success for me is doing what you like with as little restrictions as possible. Unfortunately these days, it also means not writing for well-paid mainstream websites and magazines.
Being a successful EV journalist is about keeping the interest high, writing every day, no matter what. It’s about keeping with the news. It’s mostly about expending your repertoire. I write about battery and energy solutions, as well as alternative energy. These days, I consult with companies on how to best hit their targeted audience. I like strategies, mostly.
AYH – More of your articles nowadays focus less on news and are what’s referred to in the business as “evergreen content.” Can you tell us why you are shifting to doing this?
NZ – What mostly passes as news these days is nothing more than over-hyped PR pitches. There is really little news and not that many companies making news, at least in the EV industry. It’s a small, but vocal industry and is mostly led with Tesla Motors beating the PR and marketing drums very loudly.
I’ve always been more interested in strategies and intelligent business models. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we have a very good society. It is so fundamentally flawed that when a company comes out with a product or service that answers a real need and backs it up with a truly futuristic business model, I get excited about it. That makes me get up in the morning and want to spread the news. I like looking at a product or service and seeing the ramification, or what it means for everyone. What we call “evergreen” stories these days are nothing much more than editorial pieces. We’re always very adept as re-framing old concepts with new names and have people mesmerized. Much like cloud computing!
AYH – So one of the reasons you co-founded CarNewsCafe.com was because you wanted greater writing freedom and editorial control? This outlet allows you to cover more groundbreaking technologies other news publications miss?
NZ – Yes.
AYH – What do you believe the future looks like for electric vehicles? People say they want them, but will there be brave souls that actually take the leap? What a person says they will do is a lot different than what someone does.
NZ – There are already many who have taken the leap and love them. The problem with our country is a thorny dilemma where the public has been given so much, in terms of creature comforts and a false sense of safety that an EV might seem like a step down. It’s silly, and it goes back to the difference between our country and others, but we are less inclicned to use a car that satisfies our everyday need and more willing to buy a big bloated monster for that occasional haul or trip. No matter how you look at it, it never makes financial sense.
I think EV marketing made a deadly mistake early one. I tried to go toe-to-toe with other cars when it should have stayed on its turf, city driving. You can’t beat the efficiency of an electric motor in city driving, period. As more and more EVs come out, I hope to see more city cars, until battery technology becomes more energy dense to break the magic 500 mile range. Which by the way, will happen sooner than later.
The rest is pretty much the same thing other new technologies had to deal with. The first cell phones were expensive. Now they are practically given away. It was the same for video recorder, CDs, DVDs, and anything new. EVs are always becoming cheaper and will continue to do so.
AYH – We’ve seen Nissan sell over 100,000 Nissan Leafs, but what would make electric cars more attractive for the average consumer? Battery batteries, more charging stations, more efficient chargers, alternative energy options?
NZ – That’s a tough question to answer. The average consumer doesn’t what they want. The average consumer has no time to think about they want, nor are they educated to rationalize it. In many ways, the average consumer is the result of this society that created mortgage paying drones with no time to think of the bigger picture. Most families have two people working, taking care of the kids, eating and working, with some TV time in it all, which leaves little to no time for meditating on what you want out of life.
I feel the answer lies more with intelligent business models that reflect a betterment for society. To bring this back to Earth, I think a few companies have taken the right measures, but either in a half-hearted way, or not enough. Take Fiat’s 500e leasing program, for example. $200 will get you a cool electric car with a free rental day a month. Wait until he end of the year, and you can get 12 days to take that extended trip vacation. It’s a great idea, unfortunately, Sergio Marchone sends the opposite message by saying he is loosing money with that car and the only reason it has is to continue doing business in California. Take Nissan’s new LEAF deal and an extra 2 year’s worth of free charging.
All of these solutions are great, but no one has the key solution, which would be to have a car, at this stage with 150 mile range, charging stations readily available on commutes, easier and more streamlined permitting for alternative energy solutions. In essence, businesses and policy makers really need to put on their thinking caps and figure out how they will allow business to make an intelligent profit, without destroying Earth, while offering a service and product people need, and eventually want.
Concretely, I feel more charging stations need to happen, but when I see the silly SAE combo fast charging war against CHAdeMO, I don’t think we are going to do it with those numbers. Everyone needs to feel a sense of urgency to make electric vehicles a reality. So far, I feel everyone is running around in circle, save for Tesla. But they are looking at 20 years down the road.
AYH – Your other job is a Life Coach. Can you explain what that is?
NZ – I started my coaching practice at the same time I started writing. Coaching is a fantastic system that helps you get to your core and figure out how you operate, and how to go about finding our perfect balance. Although a little esoteric, I was trained by real professionals and not consultants turned “coaches”. I don’t do much Life Coaching, I do business coaching. I work with businesses and their owners to have them find their right answers. Coaching is actually based on a very specific system, but I don’t see too many trained coaches out there.
AYH – This sounds a bit fruity, is “life coaching” really a way for you take my money? 🙂
NZ – The problem is that many professionals love to jump on the latest fad, and anything “self-help” is a hot topic these days. Going back to what I was saying before, people don’t have the time to think things through, let alone figure out what they want out of lie. A “life coach” asks questions designed to raise awareness. The same thing applies for businesses. Once you understand yourself well, decision making becomes very, very easy. You know what you want. You know what you like, but best of all, you know who you are and how you function.
So is that a way to take your money? Everything takes money these days. Money is a neutral medium for compensation. You have to change the way you look at it. Although, I will agree with you that what many coaches these days do, which they pass as coaching is more mentoring, consulting, or even counselling. The difference with coaching is that it doesn’t sale a systematized expertise. It only asks questions and a professionally trained coach NEVER tells you what to do. They simply ask questions until you understand who you are and have an Ah hah! moment.
Now tie this up with journalism and the automotive/alternative energy industry, and you can see the potential there.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to contact Nicolas about life coaching you can email him Nicolas AT carnewscafe.com
AYH – You are an Alfa Romeo enthusiast. Can you explain why? On Top Gear they say you can’t truly be a “petrolhead” (the UK equivalent of a gearhead) until you’ve owned an Alfa.
NZ – Alfa Romeo is a passion company with deep roots in the history of automobiles. However, it speaks differently to different people. For those in the twenties, it a cute MiTo with performance. However, it mostly a FIAT with some Alfa Romeo re-engineering behind. For those in their thirties, Alfa Romeo is a 159, a sleek look Brera and a brand that stands apart without fanfare, as other brands do. If you’re in your forties, Alfa Romeo is about fun convertibles with a Riviera flair, performance at an affordable level, sort of thing. It is also an amazing, and highly unrecognized Milano, 75 for the rest of the world, the last true Alfa Romeo that 75% of what an everyday Ferarri sedan should be.
If you’re older, Alfa Romeo is about La Dolce Vita, small performance sedans, sorry BMW, before you “ultimate driving machine” slogan . It was about cars you could drive at 125 MPH all day and put away at the end of a day without a second thought. And there there are the pre-WWII. Luscious performance race cars that gave birth to Ferrari.
Mostly, an Alfa Romeo is about performance, hemi engines since the 1920s, aluminium blocks and heads, five speed standards. Alfa Romeo, for my generation was the affordable Ferrari. As with anything exotic, you must maintain it well.
AYH – We like to ask everyone this, what was your first car? What was a found memory of it?
NZ – Yikes, a European Ford Fiesta. It was a 1.1L. Nothing spectacular. My second was an Alfa Romeo AlfaSud Sprint Veloce. That was THE one.
AYH – What are you currently driving? By that I mean what cars do personally own. No press fleet cars.
NZ – I have a 1974 Alfa Romeo Spider and the very last 1989 Milano that was sold in California. My wife drives a 2002 Subaru WRX. If I had a choice, I would have a Tesla Roadster and she would probably get a PHEV [plug-in hybrid electric vehicle], or even an EV.
AYH – What’s a dream car, truck, or vehicle you’d like to own one day? Besides the Tesla Roadster.
NZ – Truck? Not really 🙂 But my dream car is still a Tesla Roadster. I’m a collector, and love old cars. In many ways, it was the car that won me over. It was the car that re-sparked my love of cars. Besides that, in the world of Unobtainium, an Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale and a Maserati A6GCS bodied by Zagato.
AYH – Have anything on your automotive bucket list?
NZ – Yes, plenty. I’d love to convert my Spider to electricity. I’d do the same with a Honda S2000. I’m looking forward driving an Alfa Romeo 4C. I’m more into motorcycles at the moment.
Adam Yamada-Hanff – Anything else you want to share about yourself for your life with our readers that we did not discuss?
Nicolas Zart – Not sure what there is to share. I love to communicate. I’m a musician and love philosophies. I’d probably would share that writing has been the toughest thing I’ve ever done. It’s highly ungrateful. People leave really nasty comments, but rarely sign their names or show their face. That’s tough and you want to tell them that you’re not really making much of a living with this, so chill out.
END OF INTERVIEW
If you liked this interview with Nicolas please let him know by thanking him with a Tweet on Twitter, @ElectricExaminr and hit us up too @CarNewsCafe. Nicolas is quite active on Twitter and other social networks. You can read Nicolas Zart‘s articles too and provide him feedback on how awesome they are.
If you have any questions for Nicolas Zart about the electric vehicle industry or there was something we didn’t cover, feel free to leave a comment below. We’ll be sure to have Nicolas come answer questions people have.
If you have someone you believe would be ideal for our CarNewsCafe interview series please also leave a comment below.
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