April 5, 2013, 3:00 PM
If you're a student of automotive history, you'll recognize the name Detroit Electric as the most successful electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer of the 20th century, in terms of sales. The firm built and sold about 13,000 EVs between 1906 and 1939.
A startup Detroit firm of the same name is hoping to cash in on the cachet of its predecessor's reputation and success to market its own line of EVs, beginning with the just-revealed SP:01 sports car.
It's following the same pattern established by Tesla with its original Tesla Roadster – using a high-priced, high-performance sports car to gain attention and some early income, with the intent of leveraging that exposure into production of a broader range of EVs.
The comparison with the Tesla Roadster doesn't stop there. The two are quite similar in general appearance, both betraying their Lotus-based roots, although the Roadster seemed to get the better genes. The SP:01's "bespoke" carbon-fibre bodywork appears more stubby than sleek.
The new EV entry is following the Roadster's lead in terms of price, as well, with an intended starting tag of $135,000 (US). The company says production will begin in August this year.
It is claimed to be the fastest pure-electric production car on the market, with a top speed of 249 km/h and the ability to accelerate from 0-to-100km/h in 3.7 seconds.
Its electric motor is said to generate 201 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque – modest by performance-car standards. So much of its performance capability results from its relatively-low mass of just 1070 kg.
Little information has been revealed about the SP:01's all-important battery pack, other than it has an energy storage capacity of 37 kWh and that its technology also has been deployed successfully in other highly demanding applications, such as helicopters and submarines.
With the use of regenerative braking to help recharge the battery in operation, it is said to support a driving range of more than 290 km.
Using Detroit Electric's own home charging unit, which also allows the car to provide its stored electricity to the house if needed, the battery can be fully charged in 4.3 hours, the company says.
Rather than investing in huge manufacturing facilities, Detroit Electric plans to rely on suppliers for most manufacturing functions, just doing final assembly in-house.
The success rate for recent EV startups has not been encouraging, but Tesla has proven that it can be done. Whether Detroit electric has the juice to duplicate that success remains to be seen.
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