As oil prices continue to climb, consumers are increasingly looking to high-mileage alternative vehicles as a solution to their transportation woes. ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) Corporation, the country’s most visible importer of tiny, electric commuter cars, offers seductively green options like the three-wheeled Xebra, the Obvio 828, and the ZAP-X: all purported to travel significant distances (from 40 to 350 miles) on a single charge, with price tags as modest as $10,000.

But let the buyer beware: An article by Randall Sullivan in this month’s issue of Wired reports that the ZAP Corporation has swindled investors, failed to deliver on orders to franchises (in some cases reducing them to bankruptcy) and padded the pockets of its executives—all while continuing to tug environmentalist heartstrings through a savvy PR campaign that includes a bevy of attractive women called ZapGirls and appearances at high-visibility events like MacWorld.

ZAP representatives have since severed relations with Wired and declined to comment on many of the issues raised in the article, while launching a PR counter-campaign in favor of electric cars.

An unattributed article at called “Electric Cars and ZAP Under Attack” suggests that media outlets are rejecting electric cars in favor of big oil. In the case of Popular Science (and, it’s safe to say, all reputable publications), that’s far from accurate. We continue to cover all new promising, energy-saving automotive technologies [see the related articles box], but it’s also our journalistic responsibility to call foul when the organizations we look to for solutions go awry.