Chevrolet, a comparatively younger company founded in 1911 and bought by GM in 1918 does not hold a candle to the original Detroit Electric with regards to its electric car credentials.
And Detroit Electric, founded in 1907 as a dedicated EV maker is back. Taking up residence in an iconic 18th floor location in downtown Detroit, with an assembly plant located in Michigan, the company is playing up its pedigree as far as it can.
Actually, the company was shuttered in 1939 while Chevrolet went on to glory for decades beyond. And Detroit Electric’s new head is actually a Brit re-purposing a Brit car with plans for more all-electric, all-American creations soon. It’s a bold development gambit not unlike the path now being traveled by a billionaire South African dreamer in Silicon Valley named Elon.
“We’re back, over 70 years on,” says Detroit Electric on its Web site. “Back in Detroit and back to reignite positive movement in the motor industry. Just as we did in 1907. Proving that we were never behind the times. We were ahead of it.”
A few weeks ago the resurrected Detroit Electric displayed a teaser image of its pending all-electric sports car, and has now wasted no time in providing glossy images of … a car remarkably like the former Tesla Roadster.
The connection should be less of a surprise given that Tesla used modified bodies supplied by Lotus – although Tesla points out the Roadster is not merely an electrified Elise – and the reviver of the EV company in Detroit has strong ties to Lotus as well.
Shut down since the days of FDR, the iconic Detroit Electric brand was “re-booted” in 2008 by former Lotus Engineering Group CEO and executive director of Lotus Cars of England, Albert Lam.
So while some may initially offer that imitation is a sincerest form of flattery, the Lotus connection is arguably as valid with Detroit Electric as it ever was with Tesla.
What’s more, the lightweight and agile rear-wheel-drive Lotus platform is a good starting point to achieve a dynamic all-electric sports car regardless of who did it first.
Called the SP:01, the sporty two-seater EV will, as was the case with Tesla, pursue the high-performance, limited-edition approach to establishing its brand.
Only 999 copies are to be produced, prices start at $135,000, and the SP:01 shares similarities and has some differences with the Tesla starting perhaps with its battery pack.
In the SP:01’s case, its lithium-polymer pack is much smaller than the Tesla’s. The SP:01′s pack is thermally managed by conditioned air and said to be rated at 37-kwh compared to a 53-kwh pack that came with Tesla’s Roadster.
But the Detroit Electric’s curb weight is lower by a not-insubstantial 13.5 percent, approximately, and its transmission options are greater, so acceleration to 62 (100 kph) is said to be in a highly competitive 3.7 seconds, and top speed is 155 mph (249 kph).
Traveling range for the battery powered SP:01 is rated on a variety of standards as coming in between 139 miles and 188 miles. And no doubt if this sportster were shuttled to a track day and allowed to flex its muscles full time, its range would be much less still – as is true of any car.
Curb weight for the carbon-fiber-clad SP:01 is said to be a scant 2,358 pounds (1,070 kg) – not far off the traditionally ideal 1,000 kg mark – and not a whole lot of bulk to push; the SP:01 should provide excellent handling and braking performance in addition to blistering speed.
Its mid-mounted AC Asynchronous motor needed to push around this altogether lightweight package is therefore not that staggering on paper.
It is rated at 201 horsepower (150 kilowatts), and 166 pound-feet (225 Nm) of torque.
Compared to the 403-horsepower and 959 pounds-feet torque from the part-time electric Fisker Karma, this sounds miniscule. But the Karma is a 5,300-pound behemoth, and the classic Lotus formula of lightweight will pay big dividends for Detroit Electric.
The SP:01’s power-to-weight ratio is what should be focused on, and to be sure, this car will smoke a Karma that might lumber up to 60 mph in a traction-control-limited 6.3 seconds or so, and will wallow in corners compared to the bantamweight SP:01.
Competition however between the Detroit Electric EV and the Tesla Roadster – a quicker car than even the Model S sedan – ought to be much closer of a match.
Another advantage the SP:01 has is transmission options. These include a four-speed manual, or an optional fifth gear added to the four-speed, or a two-speed auto.
The approximately 2,723-pound (1,235 kg) Tesla Roadster kept things simpler with a single-speed gearbox, and its top speed was limited to 125 mph with a single ratio low enough to launch with a comparatively quick 0-60 in 3.7-3.9 seconds from a start.
It needed more motor power too, with various spec versions rated between 248-288 horsepower, and 200-295 pound-feet torque.
The Roadster’s all-electric range was however longer as well – in excess of an attainable real-world 200 miles, up to around 244 miles or more estimated.
Recharging time for the SP:01 is said to be 4.3 hours using the quickest charger, and with a standard EU outlet, 10.7 hours. No doubt it would take much longer with a U.S. outlet supplying but 120 volts, so a fast charger is essentially required.
Rounding out the specs, the car rides on a fully independent double-wishbone suspension with high performance dampers and coaxial springs at all four corners. It specs AP racing twin-piston front brake calipers and Brembo single-pistons in the rear. Tires are 195/50 R16 in front, and 225/45 R17 in rear.
Inside the car, Detroit Electric says it’s the first to use smart phone applications to fully manage in-car infotainment system.
Called “SAMI” (Smartphone Application Managed Infotainment system), the system accesses a variety of functions, including music player, satellite navigation, interior lighting adjust and vehicle systems status – such as the level of battery charge, range to recharge and other vehicle telemetry.
Naturally, it can also be used to make mobile phone calls.
“Our research engineers at Detroit Electric have taken steps to break the mould,” said Lam. “SP:01 is more than just a sports car, it is a mobile energy unit, allowing the user to use its stored battery energy to power not just the car but even an entire home. SP:01 is equipped with bi-directional charge and discharge capability, allowing it to release its stored electrical energy to power a home.”
The SP:01 uses a patented Detroit Electric home charging and power back-up unit, called “360 Powerback.”
It is a smart home-charging and power back-up unit that enables the SP:01’s battery to be charged at the rate of 8-kwh (240 volts @32 amps). The unit can detect a grid power failure and provide the option – via SAMI and the GSM network – for the user to instruct the vehicle to restore power to the home using its stored energy.
“360 Powerback is the next level of innovation and shows our determination to provide additional value proposition through our EVs, uniquely elevating us from others in the segment,” said Lam.
Past, Present, Future
The former Detroit Electric had its heyday and went out of business 69 years before Lam and company came along, but as has become standard operating procedure for a revival of a classic name, lore and legend come with the package for the polished up, once-sleeping brand.
As did the London-based venture capital firm that purchased the name rights to the iconic Chris-Craft boat company and Indian Motocycles, Detroit Electric’s marketing copywriters have jumped in head first. Their self descriptions evoke a legacy that the present management did not earn as they wax eloquent over a company of entirely new identity albeit with a name purchased from one from long ago. They presume to state the company is “back” as though speaking with the voice of ghosts of long-dead founders who were merely away for a while. They essentially declare a sense of continuity, and essentially rest fully on their purchased laurels.
“It’s hard to imagine that back in the early 1900’s, electric cars were the most prolific vehicle. And guess who helped spark the movement,” says Detroit Electric’s Web site. “Our founder, William C. Anderson made his first Detroit Electric in 1907. By 1910 we were leading the way, selling up to 2,000 cars a year. Petrol cars were unreliable and dirty, but Detroit Electrics could be charged at home and used in an instant …”
The new-start company says it produced 13,000 electric cars total – “a world record for electric vehicles in the 20th century.”
Why, even Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, drove one, says Detroit Electric’s marketers, as did also Thomas Edison, Mamie Eisenhower, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. among other notable customers.
This is certainly a distinction, and even Tesla Motors cannot claim Nikola Tesla ever drove one of its cars.
And so it goes. The approach is not unfamiliar in today’s world where bold personalities climb new heights, sometimes on shaky ground where others more conservative would fear to follow.
In any case, we sincerely hope the new-old company can pull it off, as the electric vehicle world needs more innovators and risk takers with good ideas. It would be great for this company to make it – a new American car company in Detroit dedicated to EVs!
Plans for Detroit Electric now are to launch the SP:01 by August, with more cars to follow down-market by 2014 including a family sedan for under $50,000 or so.
The company has signed a long-term lease for its corporate headquarters in downtown Detroit’s Fisher Building, and it aims to produce its cars at its new facility in Wayne County, Mich. as well.
The production facility is promised to have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars and Detroit Electric intends to create over 180 sales and manufacturing-related jobs over the next 12 months.
Its business has been “asset light” – modeled on Apple and Nike – and minimizing overhead and requirements for excess capital. It reportedly has just 17 employees thus far.
In question is how it will fare in what is actually a capital-intensive business. It’s starting with a pricey product that looks even more like the original Lotus Elise gas-powered car than Tesla’s Roadster – and Tesla has succeeded so far, while, speaking of history, that is where another aspirational company also headed by a non-American transplant, Fisker Automotive, seems to be slipping into.
Wishing to establish new history, Detroit Electric is looking for more investors, and of course, customers for the SP:01 which will have its global reveal at the Shanghai Motor Show on April 20.
After five years of intense research and investment in its pending product line, the company is offering signups for test drives for would-be buyers. The SP:01, priced from $135,000, will come with a three-year, 30,000-mile warranty with an optional extension for the battery to five years and 50,000 miles.
More information can be found at Detroit Electric’s Web site.