By on August 27, 2013

IMG_0034Back in April, the revived-after-eight-decades Detroit Electric brand held a big event for the press and local dignitaries in the lobby of Detroit’s magnificent Fisher Building. They announced that the company would be doing final assembly on their battery powered Lotus-based sports car, the SP:01, in a Detroit area facility and that their headquarters would be in the historic building that Albert Kahn designed for the Fisher brothers, of car body making fame. They said that an assembly facility location would be chosen in Wayne County, that initial production would begin by the end of the summer and that they hoped to have their headquarters offices set up as soon as the Fisher Bldg suite was renovated. Joining politicians and Detroit Electric executives at the press conference was one of the building owners. Now come news that the company has not finalized a lease or purchase agreement on its chosen manufacturing site in Plymouth and a visit by TTAC to the 18th floor of the Fisher Building revealed empty offices with no sign of renovations or any activity at all since April.

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In an email to the Detroit News, Detroit Electric North American president Don Graunstadt confirmed that as yet they have no lease or purchase agreement in place for an assembly operation and that production was stalled, while alluding to possible changes to their business strategy. The Wayne County production facility was expected to have an annual capacity of about 200 cars a month and employ at least 100 people.

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“To further elaborate at this juncture is, unfortunately, not possible as Detroit Electric have entered into negotiations with other parties that have the potential to impact our business strategy and timing,” Graunstadt said. “Not only are we legally bound to maintain the confidentiality of the discussions, any comment would by the nature of the situation be pure speculation due to the variables involved.”

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A few weeks after the Detroit press conference, at the Shanghai Auto Show Detroit Electric and China’s Geely Automotive announced a strategic partnership to jointly develop electric cars for the Chinese market and also manufacture electric powertrain components for both companies. There was some speculation that Geely would also be the source of platforms for the mass-market car that Detroit Electric said would follow the SP:01.

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Graunstadt insisted that Detroit Electric was not abandoning Detroit. “Detroit Electric remains 100 percent committed to the Detroit area, the State of Michigan and the residents therein,” Graunstadt’s email to the DetNews said. Note that he did not say that they were committed to building cars in the state.

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Following the publication of Graunstadt’s email to the newspaper, I decided to check on progress at Detroit Electric’s headquarters in the Fisher Building. The 18th floor of that tower has a single floorwide suite whose most recent tenant appears to have been a law firm based on the signs that are still by the office doors and the empty file cabinets labeled “outside counsel”. The suite is empty, without even a telephone. Not a stick of furniture could be found, not even in the corner offices that I assume are reserved for Graunstadt and Detroit Electric CEO Albert Lam. The only indication that the office suite had anything to do with Detroit Electric, was a single small office where they had stashed the podium, signs and flat screen stands emblazoned with the Detroit Electric logo used at the April press conference. There were no signs of any renovations. Actually there wasn’t even a Detroit Electric sign at the empty receptionist’s desk.

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Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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18 Comments on “Detroit Electric Stalls Production Plans, Fisher Building Headquarters Empty...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    So the floor was just unlocked and you could walk about freely? Nice.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Detroit- Where Bad Ideas Go To Die. It’s a shame the city is in such dire straits that they’d fall for a car-building scheme that would make Youngman blush.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Indeed. The City of Detroit is beyond desperate.

    Sad.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Vaporware; called it.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    The eloquence of empty.

    How long before squatters?

  • avatar
    Hummer

    ……Wait, was that the wind?

    Any investor with sense wouldn’t touch this idea, besides the obvious hoopla with the idea (or lack there of), any startup trying to buy more office space than shop space isn’t doing it with the expectation of a lasting end result.

    200 vehicles a month?

    That will pay what?, The taxes on the building(esp in Detroit), and the interest on the loans?

  • avatar
    sith33

    I never heard anyone explain how exactly they planned to sell a non-NHTSA approved car in the States, which makes it seem like it was all an investment scam. It would cost millions upon millions of dollars to reengineer the Exige platform for current regulations (no multistage airbags, non-conforming lights, non-comforming crash results, etc), hence why Lotus don’t sell it here anymore.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Does this even qualify as a long con?

  • avatar
    SV1

    Hmmmm………the only thing missing on this one is Malcolm Bricklin.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Can I get one of those Detroit Electric press conference signs? It would go great in a collection with my Charles Ponzi certificate and Bernie Madoff account statement.

  • avatar
    rolosrevenge

    Who ever would have thought that Detroit Electric wouldn’t make any cars.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    “Detroit Electric remains 100 percent committed to the Detroit area, the State of Michigan and the residents therein,” 100 percent of nothing is still nothing.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Reminds me of the elaborate schemes that Doug from Weeds would try to pull to scam money.

  • avatar
    pietalian

    Nice coverage, Ronnie. A little journalism goes a long way sometimes

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Have they completely renovated the Fisher Building’s floors in the past thirty-five years or so?

    A Toledo-based medical-supply company my for which my Dad worked (and which took my family to Toledo in 1984 as a result of his promotion) had a Detroit office on the 10th-floor of the F/B, and I can remember the Art-Deco details all over (including around the Fisher Theatre in the lobby), and the huge oak doors going into the suites, complete with transoms over the doors! Very similar, as I saw, in July 2001 whilst on a “whirlwind” tour of Manhattan during a six-hour layover at Newark, to the Empire State Building, at least the lobby.

    (Chillingly, our group also pulled up next to the Marriott on Vesey Street (IIRC–New Yorkers, help me out here, I think you can see where this is going), then walked through the lobby of, the World Trade Center for fifteen or so minutes. I’ve seen the 9/11 documentary on that hotel, but don’t recall the street or which tower was adjacent to it.)


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