If you’ve got a sense of automotive history you just might recognize the name Detroit Electric. It’s Motown factory rolled out about 13,000 of battery cars from 1907 through 1939, one delivering a record 211 miles on a single charge, a figure enviable even today.
While the original company didn’t make it through the Great Depression, the name was brought back in 2008 by Albert Lam, the one-time CEO of the Lotus Engineering Group. Like a number of other wannabe battery-car companies, the reborn Detroit Electric has had a rough go of it, nearly fading away when a partnership with the other electric vehicle maker Zap collapsed.
But somehow, the Motor City manufacturer has quietly continued working on its first product line and Detroit Electric plans to reveal a new electric sports car, sending out this teaser image of what it has in store. It also promises to bring several more models to market in the near future.
Ironically, the preview won’t take place in Detroit or even New York, at the upcoming auto show. Detroit Electric plans to “share an exciting announcement about a major partnership with a global carmaker” at next month’s Shanghai Auto Show.
What it has in store it’s keeping close to the vest, though the start-up says its first product will be an all-electric two-seat sports car. It plans to start producing the new model by late summer at a small plant near Detroit that is expected to have an annual production capacity of 2,500. The maker plans to hire 180 workers, including those at the plant, as well in its sales and marketing operations.
“We are committed to doing our part for this great revival of Detroit through innovation, entrepreneurship and determination – what we like to call ‘Detroit 2.0,” said Don Graunstadt, CEO of North American Operations. “Our investors and management team are thankful to the State of Michigan for the help provided in allowing Detroit Electric to carry on the legacy that began in Michigan so many years ago.”
As for the car itself, the teaser image reveals the use of energy-efficient LED lighting, along with a highly aero-efficient body style. While it is highly likely to be using a lithium-ion battery pack other details remain to be released.
The maker promises the sports car will be just the first in a “diverse family of high-performance electric vehicles to follow,” including two others planned by the end of 2014.
Hints CEO Lam, “The sports car will allow us to demonstrate to the world our ability to build an exciting and innovative product. This DNA will be translated across to our future sedans; all our cars will be fun to drive and deliver exceptional performance within their class.”
Detroit Electric’s plans are nothing if not ambitious – as well as risky. Despite all the press battery cars have generated over the last few years, demand has lagged far behind expectations. Mainstream makers like Ford and Nissan hope to ramp up sales this year – the Japanese maker desperately needing a boost having opened a new assembly plant for its Leaf battery-electric vehicle in Smyrna, Tennessee late last year.
It’s been an especially tough time for battery start-ups. Several, like Bright Automotive, have folded, while Coda is barely hanging on and Fisker Automotive is cash-short and looking for partners with deep pockets. Tesla Motors, meanwhile, posted a greater-than-expected loss during the fourth quarter but insists strong demand for its Model S will help the maker post its first profit this quarter.
(Fisker may have scared away potential partners. Click Herefor more.)
Whether Detroit Electric can spark consumer interest, and whether it has the funding to weather a slow ramp-up remains to be seen.