Back from the dead: EV storms back into the fray

Detroit Electric, the market leader for electric vehicles 100 years ago, has been revived. And the new version can go quicker than any EV before it. The question is, will it stick around this time?

What’s old is new again as a brand seemingly dead and buried 75 years ago has been brought back to life.

Detroit Electric, an electric car produced from 1907 to 1939, has been reinvented with a strong Lotus tinge. The modern day version was unveiled last week, promising to be the quickest all-electric car ever produced with a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 seconds.

The car looks better than its early 20th century counterpart, while also going incredibly fast – a maximum speed of around 155 miles per hour (249 km/h). In 1910, it was a more sedate 20 miles per hour. Its range has also been tweaked for the better, coming in close to 190 miles as opposed to 80 back in its heyday.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the volume of production. In the 1910s, production hit a peak of between 1,000 to 2,000 vehicles and today, the company’s plant has a capacity of 2,500 and is planning to only make 999 SP:01 vehicles (its first model).

The SP:01 is due to launch in August and after a limited run, the company plans to introduce two new models to the market around the end of 2014. A very ambitious timetable, arguably too ambitious.

Indeed, it will be a challenge to move from upstart to competitor, as shown in excruciating detail by hybrid car manufacturer Fisker. But it certainly can’t be faulted for effort, with the first vehicle the result of five years of research and engineering development.

And it’s clear that plenty of thought has gone into the first model, with innovation in linking smart phones to the in-car infotainment system and even allowing the capability for the car to use its stored energy to power a home in the event of a grid failure. The company has also managed to agree a “major partnership” with a global carmaker, to be announced at the Shanghai Motor Show on April 20.

Like many of the electric cars bursting onto the scene, it’s also rather nice to look at, a testament to the company’s Lotus influence. When it was revived back in 2007, the firm hired Lotus Engineering to deliver design and technical services. It then saw Lotus Group chief executive Albert Lam join the group, first as chairman and then as chief executive in 2008. Now, its five top execs are all Lotus alumni.

When Detroit Electric first burst onto the scene last century it became a market leader in a market that quickly faded. The new Detroit Electric may never reach market leadership – it may not even reach 2015 – but at least the market looks ripe for significant expansion in the coming decades.

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