Detroit Electric SP:01: First Look

Detroit-electric-1

  • Competitors: Pre-owned Tesla Roadster, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive
  • Looks like: A lightly restyled Lotus Exige (basically a Tesla Roadster or Hennessy Venom GT)
  • Drivetrain: Mid-mounted 201-horsepower electric motor, 37-kwh lithium-ion battery pack; choice of four- or five-speed manual or two-speed automatic transmission
  • Hits dealerships: Late 2013 (so they say)
  • MSRP: $135,000

A new company using an old name has unveiled an extraordinary state-of-the-art electric sports car in the heart of the American auto industry. Detroit Electric, an electric-vehicle company that ran from 1906 through 1939 and built 13,000 cars well before anyone else was making EVs, has been reborn in the Motor City.

It intends to produce the SP:01 electric sports car using a Lotus Exige platform modified to accept an electric powertrain. Sound familiar? It should; that's the formula that created the original Tesla Roadster. But the Detroit Electric people say they have improved upon Tesla's designs, and the specs are indeed impressive.

Motivation is provided by a 150-kilowatt (201 horsepower) mid-mounted electric motor with electricity coming from an onboard 37-kilowatt-hour air-cooled lithium-polymer battery pack. Three gearbox options are available: a four- or five-speed manual and a two-speed automatic. The combination is responsible for some impressive numbers: zero to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds, a top speed of 155 mph, a total range of at least 180 miles and a recharge time of just over 4 hours on a 240-volt circuit (more than 10 hours on a standard 120-volt household plug).

The body, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lotus Exige for reasons that will become clear in a moment, is all carbon fiber allowing the SP:01 to trim weight and offset the big battery pack. The car weighs just 2,354 pounds, which is nearly 130 pounds less than a base Mazda Miata MX-5 and 369 pounds less than a Tesla Roadster.

Two unique features of the SP:01 make it distinctive from previous electric sports cars. First is the 360 Powerback, which allows the car's onboard "bidirectional" charger to act as both a charger for the car or a power source for a home. In the event of an electrical outage, the SP:01's battery can be used to provide electricity for a residence.

The car will not have a traditional entertainment system — the audio system will be dependent upon a smartphone integrated into the center console. It uses an app that Detroit Electric calls the Smartphone Application Managed Infotainment system. This is the first instance of an automaker relying on the music player and satellite navigation functions of a smartphone for its vehicle, providing instead just a receptacle and software for integration. SAMI can also control interior lighting, display vehicle system status, remotely control cabin climate, monitor battery charge status and more.

On paper, the car looks good. The business plan is where things start to stumble. Management isn't the issue. The reason the car looks like a Lotus is that four out of the five top executives of Detroit Electric come from Lotus Engineering's North American and Chinese consultancy operations, so designing a car is certainly within their power.

The company's ambitious plans for sales and production, however, are highly questionable. Detroit Electric says that production of the SP:01 will begin at an unspecified facility somewhere in Wayne County, Mich., (home of Detroit) by August, which is less than four months from now. The company plans to build just 999 of the SP:01 at an MSRP of $135,000 each, and it hopes to sell out as quickly as possible in order to fund the next project, a more affordable $50,000 family sedan. If this sounds a little too much like Fisker Automotive's business model, that would be fairly spot on.

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

Detroit Electric SP:01

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Comments 

Dan

"If this sounds a little too much like Fisker Automotive's business model, that would be fairly spot on."

It also sounds a little too much like Tesla's business model, a company that is currently turning a profit.

The model is not necessarily bad or good. Execution in the market will matter.

Dan

"If this sounds a little too much like Fisker Automotive's business model, that would be fairly spot on."

It also sounds a little too much like Tesla's business model, a company that is currently turning a profit.

The model is not necessarily bad or good. Execution in the market will matter.

othree

I'm surprised Tesla isn't throwing a legal fit with this car! It's a total rip-off. Even if they've improved on it, to the average consumer the two cars look alike. Some may ask, "Is that the new Tesla?"

Parrots

othree,

The thing is, Tesla stopped producing the Roadster in early 2012.

Max

Tesla is not profitable. Tesla claimed a small profit end of Q1 by excluding expenses related to non-cash options and warrants. That's not a profit. Read the 10-Q.

Agree, it looks like an old Lotus. There is something with its muscle rear look that doesn't fit with its thin front.

Card13

"the Detroit Electric people say they have improved upon Tesla's designs"

I would hope so, considering this car is an entire generation ahead of the Tesla. To be honest, the initial specs don't indicate that it's extremely more advanced than the Roadster that was developed well over 5 years ago. In any case, I hope they succeed. I'm always rooting for new American companies, that just means more jobs.

Justin

That's a lot of silly transmission options for a car with an electric motor.
And two independent motors is the way to go. The tech in this is more like a kit car.

Stuart

The specs are less impressive then the Tesla and the price is higher. Smaller battery and less horsepower, 25% less range. Presumably the 0-60 with less horsepower is achieved by using a lower gear ratio, limiting the maximum speed to a lower value then the Tesla. Does the unit have a torque converter or clutch? If not you will only be able to shift gears when stopped or you will destroy the transmision. Air cooled instead of water cooled batteries sounds like a problem. For safety and reliability your probably need water cooled on a pack this size. Prismatic batteries are not so safe either, compared to the round cells Tesla uses. It is possible that they could work around these shortcomings but I would be worried. Their battery pack sounds a lot like the design Boeing is having so much trouble with. I might buy one once the reliability and safety is proven and it is determined that you can get them fixed.

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