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.
The iconic Detroit Electric brand, founded in 1907, and shut down in 1939, 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.
And further, the light and agile rear-wheel-drive Lotus platform is an ideal 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 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 365 pounds 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 many moons ago, but as is usual for a revival of a classic name, lore and legend come with the package for the polished up, once-sleeping brand.
Representatives for the new-start company that had been founded in 1907 by William C. Anderson say it produced 13,000 cars total, and in its prime, was delivering 2,000 units per year.
Why, even Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, drove one, it says, as did also Thomas Edison, Mamie Eisenhower, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. among other notable customers.
Plans 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.
Detroit Electric 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 model has been “asset light” – modeled on Apple and Nike – and minimizing overhead and requirements for excess capital. It has just 17 employees thus far.
It 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.
More information can be found at Detroit Electric’s Web site.