Detroit Electric Aims to Recharge the EV Market

Detroit Electric has announced its return to the Motor City, the birthplace of the electric vehicle, touting the creation of new jobs and a range of exciting 100-percent electric vehicles. Can an innovative electric car manufacturer revive a brand after an absence of over 70 years and navigate a highly competitive market?

Detroit Electric was revived in 2008 by Albert Lam, former CEO of the Lotus Engineering Group and executive director of Lotus Cars of England. Detroit Electric's goal is "to produce an electric vehicle that seamlessly integrates refined aesthetics, innovative technology, superior handling, and performance."

The startup automaker expects to create 180 sales and manufacturing-related jobs in the next 12 months and build as many as 2,500 sports cars a year. The company has already identified a suitable site in Wayne County, Mich., and will also look to maintain a manufacturing facility at Lochem in the Netherlands.

Unlike some other "green" car brands, Detroit Electric does not develop its own vehicle platforms and instead applies its technology to existing chassis developed by well-established manufacturers. Eventually, the company intends to produce its own bespoke platforms out of the Michigan facility.

The company showcased its first offering, the SP:01, a limited-edition, two-seat all-electric sports car at the Shanghai Motor Show in April and plans to start manufacturing this August. If successful, the car could herald a new family of all-electric vehicles, including two other high-performance models that will enter production by the end of 2014.

In Shanghai, Detroit Electric announced a technical partnership with Geely Automobile Group in China to co-develop pure-electric vehicles and related electric drive systems for the Chinese market. The company aims to become a market leader in the Chinese EV sector within 18 months.

Whereas other alternative fuel manufacturers may spend several hundred million dollars on developing bespoke vehicle platforms and preparing manufacturing facilities, Detroit Electric has been able to develop the SP:01 at a fraction of the cost.

Detroit Electric's vehicles employ 100-percent electric systems, as opposed to complex and costly hybrid dual EV and gasoline drivetrains, so the technology is more straightforward to incorporate into existing vehicle platforms. As a result, the company has been able to share components, platforms, homologation tests, crash safety tests, etc., with its vehicle partners, reducing the cost and time taken to get vehicles to production and into the market.

The rear-wheel-drive SP:01, which sports a carbon-fiber body, exemplifies some of the advanced features available through this streamlined production process, including:

  • Having a top speed of 155 mph and covering the 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) sprint in 3.7 seconds;
  • A powertrain tgar delivers instantaneous torque through a four-speed manual gearbox for optimal acceleration;
  • A 37 kWh battery that gives the SP:01 a range of almost 190 miles, when tested to the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) standard;
  • A home charging unit that will enable drivers to fully recharge their SP:01 in 4.3 hours;
  • Regenerative braking technology that delivers stopping performance while ensuring greater energy efficiency; and
  • An energy recovery mechanism that uses the motor as a generator, recovering kinetic energy and using it to recharge the batteries.

The SP:01 is effectively a mobile energy unit, allowing its owner to use its stored battery energy to power not just the car but even an entire home. This smart battery unit can also detect any power failure in the grid and provide the option to the user, via a mobile phone app, to restore power to the home.

The Detroit Electric sports car is set to rival Tesla's Lotus-based machine. Last month, Tesla stopped giving out the number of reservations in place for its cars, a metric that investors find useful for assessing future demand.

General purpose electric vehicles are still a decade from becoming mainstream, according to the Detroit Free Press. There are more electric vehicles coming to market today, but the offerings tend to be small cars, like the Nissan Leaf and electric versions of the Ford Focus, Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Smart, Scion iQ, and a small crossover with the Toyota RAV.

"We expect sales of each [EV] to be low...and the lack of a full range of mainstream electric vehicles will keep them from making much of a dent in the market as a whole," Michael Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain forecast with LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich., explained.

Obviously, Detroit Electric aims to spark the EV market with the introduction of its high-performance vehicles. We'll have to wait and see if they can also recharge the market for those drivers wanting something other than a sports car.


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