The Truth About Cars » Detroit Electric The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:46:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Detroit Electric Detroit Electric Gets To Work In Detroit Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:00:48 +0000 Detroit Electric Vice President Doug Moore. Note the used whiteboard in the conference room behind him.

Detroit Electric Vice President Doug Moore in the company’s Fisher Bldg headquarters in Detroit. Note the used whiteboard in the conference room behind him.

When Detroit Electric launched their brand last spring at a gala affair in Detroit’s magnificent Fisher Building they, and the building’s landlord, said that the revived electric car brand would be making its headquarters in a suite on the 18th floor of the historic Detroit skyscraper. They also laid out their plans for assembling cars in southeastern Michigan.


When the company announced in November that they were delaying their plans to start electrifying Lotus supplied gliders at a Detroit area production facility, while going ahead with plans to build cars for the European market somewhere in Europe, Detroit Electric North American president Don Graunstadt insisted that the company was still dedicated to having operations in the Detroit area. To see what kind of progress they were having with their headquarters I stopped in at the Fisher Building back then and discovered that their Fisher Building suite was empty, with apparently no sign of any work having been done to set up a business office. We published photos of the empty offices here at TTAC, which got some attention.

Detroit Electric has now announced that they’ll be assembling cars for the European market at a facility in Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom, with sales and marketing for Europe, Africa and the Middle East handled out of the Netherlands. However, company CEO Albert Lam’s statement reiterated their commitment to the Detroit area, saying, “We’re growing our team at the company’s headquarters in Detroit and we are committed to bringing investment and jobs to the Detroit economic area in the very near future.”

Since he mentioned the Detroit headquarters I returned to the Fisher Building today and I’m happy to report that there is now visible activity at Detroit Electric’s Detroit headquarters, with most of their North American staff located there. I also found out, according to company VP for administration Doug Moore, that my November photographs may have given the wrong impression.

Moore said that it was true that at the time I photographed their suite in November they had made no progress on moving into their permanent offices, but that it was due to the landlord’s delays in getting the suite ready and that they actually had staff working then in temporary offices on the Fisher Bldg’s 12th floor. The company vice president came out to speak with me today after their personnel director found me setting up my cameras in their 18th floor lobby. While it wasn’t exactly a beehive of activity – there wasn’t even a receptionist, this time the office did look occupied and behind the entry doors I could see a conference room whose whiteboard looked recently used, covered with automotive jargon.

Moore gave me an update on the company’s current plans. Their plans to sell their SP:01 sports car in the U.S. were contingent on getting waivers, as a small scale manufacturer, on some Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. With those waivers seemingly stalled, they decided to go ahead with European assembly, since a facility on the continent was always part of their long term plans and starting assembly there made more sense than building the cars in the U.S. and incurring the additional customs and transportation costs of shipping them overseas.

Moore said that the company’s second generation sports car, to be based on the Lotus Evora so it will be a larger, 2+2 grand tourer, will be assembled in the U.S., assuming they can get government approval. Moore reiterated that the company’s proposed more mass market four passenger car will be designed and engineered in the United States with final assembly being most likely done somewhere in or near Detroit.

He said, regarding that four passenger Detroit Electric, that the company is pursuing two possible strategies. They are going forward with a blank sheet design at the same time that they are negotiating with a couple of large automakers who might provide gliders for them to electrify.

Concerning their existing Detroit operations, Moore said that they currently have eight employees working in the Fisher Building and that will increase to about a dozen people soon, as he already has been interviewing engineers to augment their design team. By the end of the year Moore expects there to be about 20 Detroit Electric employees to be active in their headquarters. When I asked which corporate personnel are working out of the Fisher Bldg suite, he rattled off the positions for most of their current North American staff, including himself and Graunstadt.

As for when we’ll see actual Detroit Electric cars, Moore said that styling on the SP:01 is currently being finalized, with changes to the front and rear looks of the car from the concept shown in Detroit last year. Job One for assembling the SP:01 in the UK will take place in early September of this year, with ride & drive demonstrations for potential customers and retail sales soon after. I didn’t ask about distribution and dealer networks and Moore didn’t offer any information on those topics. As for the four passenger Detroit Electric, Moore said that they were aiming to launch it in the first quarter of 2016.

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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Detroit Electric to Start Production in Holland, Not Necessarily Move It From Detroit Sat, 31 Aug 2013 14:07:10 +0000 IMG_0079

Detroit Electric CEO at the April launch of the brand and its SP:01 battery powered sports car

Saying that they continue to be committed to building cars in the Detroit area, EV startup Detroit Electric has told the Detroit News that the first models of its SP:01 sports car, like Tesla’s Roadster an electrified Lotus, will have their final assembly done in Holland starting in the last quarter of the year, not this month in Wayne County, Michigan as announced when the brand was launched back in April. While some have characterized the announcement as indicating that Detroit Electric is moving production from the Motor City to Europe, at the launch the company did indeed say that they’d be opening two assembly facilities, one near Detroit and the other in Europe to build cars for the European market, so it’s possible that there is no move planned, just that the Detroit facility has been delayed.

“We are Detroit Electric, not London Electric,” the automaker’s CEO, Albert Lam, said in a statement. “Our commitment to the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the United States is as strong as it ever was. While there have been some delays in our plan to start production in Detroit, many vehicle programs experience some form of delay.”

Detroit Electric earlier blamed one of those delays on the fact that it had not finalized a lease or purchase agreement on any production facility near Detroit, and now they say that securing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Certification must happen before they start U.S. production. It’s not clear if that certification would include meeting all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or if the company is continuing to seek an exemption for low production vehicles, as Lam told TTAC they would, back in April at the launch.

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Detroit Electric Stalls Production Plans, Fisher Building Headquarters Empty Tue, 27 Aug 2013 13:08:07 +0000 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.


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.


“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.”


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.


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.


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.


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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Geely & Detroit Electric Announce Strategic Partnership to Produce Chinese EVs, Will Detroit Electric Use Geely Gliders Too? Fri, 26 Apr 2013 11:00:42 +0000

Earlier this month, when Detroit Electric revealed their first car, the Lotus based SP:01, the EV startup’s CEO, Albert Tam, said that the battery powered sports car is only the first of three cars that Detroit Electric will be introducing over the next year or so. Only 999 of the carbon fiber bodied SP:01 will be made but Tam said that next year Detroit Electric will be introducing two more mass market cars, a sedan and hatchback. Tam said that those cars will have Detroit Electric specific styling and interiors but will be based on gliders sourced from an existing auto manufacturer with final assembly being done in Michigan. At the time of the SP:01 reveal, Detroit Electric executives said that the vendor whose platform they’d be using was “in Asia”. They company also said that an announcement of a strategic partner would be made at the Shanghai Auto Show. I assumed that partner would be Chinese and that Detroit Electric would be announcing who their platform vendor for the sedan and hatchback would be. I was half correct.

Detroit Electric did announce a Chinese strategic vendor, Geely, but the announcement wasn’t that the privately owned company headed by ambitious Chinese industrialist Li Shufu is going to be providing Detroit Electric with gliders. Instead, Detroit Electric will be supplying Geely with technology for Geely’s luxury Emgrand brand to sell battery powered EVs for the Chinese market and also develop related electric drive components and systems. The first vehicle that will be the result of the strategic partnership will be the EC7-EV, based, not suprisingly, on the Emgrand EC7, a C/D segment family sedan. The car will be co-branded and wear a “Detroit Electric – Technology” badge that is engraved with the blue circuit board trace graphic that graces the fascia of the SP:01. Initial sales will be in the first quarter of 2014 and focused at businesses and government customers, with the companies predicting sales of 3,000 cars in the first 12 months, and 30,000 a year by 2016. Interestingly, at the press conference in Detroit, Albert Tam had forecast sales of Detroit Electric’s sedan and hatchback at 30,000 units by 2016.

The sales to public sector agencies is one of the paradoxes about doing business in China. At the Detroit reveal, Tam was adamant about Detroit Electric refusing to accept investments from government owned businesses and specifically referred to China. Unlike many Chinese car companies, Geely, as mentioned, is a private company. Still, and Bertel can correct me if I’m wrong, I understand that Geely is fairly dependent on sales to government entities in China.

The cars will be using Detroit Electric’s two speed high torque transmission and a joint-venture company will be set up near Geely’s Hangzhou headquarters to build that gearbox as well as other critical EV powertrain components and associated parts. Two different sized battery packs will be available on the EC7-EV, one with a 165km range, and one with a range of 258 km. A joint R&D  team has been set to work on the electric motor, battery pack and associated thermal and charge management systems, as well as a “vehicle management system”, which I suspect is a variant of Detroit Electric’s SAMI smartphone based infotainment system.

Apparently, discussions between the two companies have been going on for three years. With that level of involvement and the use of the term “strategic partnership” I think it’s safe to assume that any jointly developed powertrain technologies will end up on the yet to be announced Detroit Electric sedan and hatch. I think it’s almost as safe to assume that those Detroit Electric cars will be based on gliders that are built in one of Geely’s six Chinese factories.

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 – RJS


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Detroit Electric Will Outsource Much But Will Assemble Own Battery Packs Sat, 06 Apr 2013 18:55:01 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

While Damon Lavrinc at  Wired’s Autopia makes the observation that the revived Detroit Electric company seems to be following the Tesla playbook, launching their company with a car based on an electrified small Lotus, Detroit Electric CEO Albert Lam insists that his team is using a different business model than Tesla and that they have learned from other EV startups’ mistakes. Lam also said there was no comparison between Detroit Electric and Fisker, which appears to be headed to bankruptcy soon, having just furloughed all but 50 employees. Detroit Electric says they are following the model of Apple (on Lam’s CV along with a stints at Lotus and Sun Microsystems) focusing on design and engineering with much of everything else contracted out. Lam pointed out, at a press conference following the reveal of the SP:01 sports car, that buying and equipping a factory to build an original platform, as Tesla is doing, or even contracting out assembly of an original platform, as Fisker has tried to do, both require up front investments of hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars or more, requiring quick success and substantial early sales just to break even. Lam says that Detroit Electric will proceed more slowly that those other two EV startups.

Tesla used a Lotus platform to get their company off the ground with their Roadster but much of Tesla’s focus has been developing the all-original Model S, built in the former NUMMI GM/Toyota plant in California. Detroit Electric will only be selling 1,000 of the $135,000 SP:01 as the startup moves to put a volume model, in sedan and hatchback styles, into production. Those new cars, with a projected sales figure of 10,000 units in 2015, ramping up to perhaps 40,000 in three years, will not have a unique platform like the Tesla Model S or the Fisker Karma. While that 40,000 unit figure seems a bit optimistic, Tesla is producing (and selling, they claim) the Model S at a rate of about 20,000 units a year, Chevy sold 23,400 Volts in North America in 2012 and just shy of 10,000 Nissan Leafs were sold in that market last year. Globally, Nissan sold about 27,000 Leafs, so Detroit Electric could be selling ten to twenty thousand cars a year if they have a competitive product.

They wouldn’t say who will be supplying them with gliders, but Lam said that an announcement of a strategic partner will be made at the upcoming Shanghai auto show. Lam did say that their platform supplier will be in Asia and that the cars will be built with unique Detroit Electric exterior bodies and interiors, as well as the tech features unique to the SP:01, particularly the SAMI smartphone app that controls most of the car’s infotainment. By giving their cars a brand specific look and a competitive interior, perhaps Detroit Electric will avoid the problems that another EV startup, Coda, has faced. Coda also based it’s business model around selling an electric version of an existing platform, but they decided to use a rather generic looking sedan from China’s Changan Hafei that is arguably the most boring looking car on sale in North America. Also, consumers have said that the Coda’s cheap interior plastics look out of place in car that has a list price of over $44,000. Reportedly Coda sold less than 100 cars in 2012 and early this year there were reports that the company had laid off 30% of its workforce. One dealer had slashed prices 40% on the Codas he had in stock.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Detroit Electric did promise that they will be doing final assembly in a Detroit area facility. Lam said that components will come in “CKD” (completely knocked down) form that will then be put together in Michigan. In a sense, that reverses how the big Detroit automakers often shipped CKD kits to foreign subsidiaries where they would be assembled. A similar facility will be operated in Europe for cars sold in Europe and Asia. North American distribution will be done through traditional dealers, most likely a hookup with a large dealer group. European sales will follow a new model, though the only hint they gave us was that it will operated on the model of “don’t call us, we’ll call you”, whatever that means.

One actual similarity with Tesla is that Detroit Electric will be assembling their own battery packs from cells supplied by vendors. That assembly, along with that of the batteries’ air-cooled thermal management system, will be done in the Detroit area. Detroit Electric’s head of engineering, Ben Boycott, said that the company “for commercial reasons” will not be using a single supplier for their cells. That’s a smart move after Fisker’s production was interrupted by battery maker A123′s own bankruptcy.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Korea’s Kokam had already been mentioned as a possible supplier to Detroit Electric. An additional battery maker will be announced as soon as final prices are negotiated. Boycott said that from a technical standpoint both Kokam cells and those supplied by the other company are equivalent. That other company will also be Korean but will not be LG Chem, who supplies the Chevy Volt. If you want to sleuth it out, Lam did say that the unnamed Korean battery supplier already has a facility near Detroit.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Detroit Electric, like Tesla, will also offer the same cars in two different battery capacities, ranges and prices. The entry level, lower range car will be competitively priced to the Nissan Leaf. Lam mentioned a price of $32-$35,000, the cost of a loaded midsize car these days.

Lam stressed how Detroit Electric will be “an American company”, headquartered and operated out of Detroit. Currently, six people work in Detroit Electric’s temporary offices in Detroit’s historic Fisher Bldg, including Don Graundstadt, CEO of North American operations. Once their permanent offices in the building are ready, that will go up to about 20, the same number of people who will initially staff the local assembly facility. An engineering and R&D center employing up to 200, also in the Detroit area, is in their plans. When asked about the company’s financing, Lam said that they have both private and strategic investors, including the company that supplies them with battery packaging equipment. He took pains to emphasize how he had recently been contacted by investment bankers representing a state owned Chinese business looking to invest in Detroit Electric and that he turned them down. He said that they welcomed private equity investors, and specifically mentioned investors in Europe and Hong Kong, but that they did not want any equity investments from governments linked businesses.

On the topic of government money, Detroit Electric received a $50,000 forgivable startup loan from Ann Arbor’s SPARK business incubator which was repaid in full.

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 get a parallax view 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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Detroit Electric Rides Again Thu, 04 Apr 2013 19:18:57 +0000

Detroit Electric is a startup electric car maker that revives the brand of another startup electric car maker by the name of Detroit Electric. As chronicled by Ronnie Schreiber, Detroit Electric cars were produced by the Anderson Carriage company from 1907 to 1939. They sold thousands of them until they were displaced by a better idea, the internal combustion engine. Yesterday, the new Detroit Electric unveiled its first model, a $135,000, battery-powered sports car.

As reported by Reuters, the Detroit Electric SP:01 is “the world’s fastest pure-electric sports car,” with  a range of  “just under 190 miles” between charges.

The car will be built in the Detroit area at a dedicated plant with an annual capacity of 2,500, the company told Reuters.

According to the report, “the SP:01 appears to borrow heavily from the British-built Lotus Elise — no surprise considering a number of Detroit Electric executives previously worked for various affiliates of Lotus Cars.”

There is another Lotus connection: The brand was revived in 2007 as a joint venture between China’s Youngman and California’s Zap. Youngman also is the Chinese joint venture partner of Lotus, a marriage that produced bastard children, some of them depicted above. Youngman achieved notoriety as an incessant bidder for Saab, a courtship that ended in failure.

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Revived Detroit Electric Brand to Open HQ in Detroit and Sell Electrified Exiges Tue, 19 Mar 2013 21:57:29 +0000

Until the modern day revival of electric vehicles like the Teslas, Nissan’s Leaf or the Chevy Volt, the best selling electric car ever was the Detroit Electric, produced by the Anderson Carriage company from 1907 to 1939. They sold thousands of them (1914 was the high water mark with ~4,500 produced). Among the people who drove Detroit Electrics were electricity pioneers Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz and the wives of automotive industrialists  Henry Ford and Henry Joy (he ran Packard). Interestingly, John D. Rockefeller, who made his enormous fortune from petroleum products like gasoline, owned a pair of Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters. Now, not only has the electric car industry been revived, but also the Detroit Electric company, which says it will start producing battery electric sports cars in a Michigan facility by the end of this summer. Following Tesla’s example, their first car will be based on a Lotus, in this case an Exige coupe, and the company promises two other “high performance” models in 2014.

Teaser of the Lotus Exige based Detroit Electric sports car

Using a Lotus glider as the basis of an EV, as mentioned, isn’t a particularly original idea. Besides the Tesla Roadster if you remember, before their bankruptcy, Chrysler showed a raft of electric powered concept cars including the Circuit EV based on the Elise derived Europa. With aluminum superstructures and composite bodies, Lotus cars are light enough to still have good performance after being fitted with heavy electric battery packs. The choice of the Exige is an interesting one since that car is not sold in the United States – apparently because of a regulatory issue with its airbags. Perhaps Detroit Electric’s chairman and CEO, Albert Lam, who used to run Lotus, will use his connections with the British firm to get the gliders federalized.

John D. Rockefeller had two Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters, like this one for sale at RM’s 2012 St. John’s auction

In addition to announcing that Detroit Electric is going to be more than just a placeholding website that’s been around since Lam acquired the rights to the brand and logo in 2008, the company has signed a lease for its headquarters to be located in Detroit’s historic and automotively connected Fisher Building. The new car will have a press launch in Detroit early next month, followed by a global reveal at the Shanghai auto show later in April. In addition to signing the lease on their HQ, Detroit Electric has selected what they call a “dedicated production facility” in Michigan that will have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars a year. Since they’re working with the quasi-governmental Michigan Economic Development Corporation, most likely it will be a facility that has formerly been used to build relatively short production runs of specialty cars. My WAG would be either the facility in Troy where Saleen did final assembly of the Ford GTs, or the former GM Lansing Craft Centre that built the Chevy SSR. Between the offices in Detroit and the production plant, Detroit Electric hopes to create 180 new jobs in Michigan over the next year.

Detroit Electric logo on the aluminum running board of Helen Newberry Joy’s 1914 Detroit Electric. Note the broken shoe scraper.

Apparently that production facility will not be owned by Detroit Electric. Before working at Lotus, Lam’s resume includes stints in Asia with Apple and Sun Microsystems, and Detroit Electric will be following an “asset light” business model, focusing on R&D and marketing and jobbing out production.

When the new Detroit Electric sports car is first revealed next month we’ll have coverage of the event. Press release here.

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 get a parallax view 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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Plus ça Charge, Plus c’est la Même Chose Pt. 3: Tesla’s Supercharging Stations Wed, 26 Sep 2012 15:16:10 +0000
A few months ago, BMW announced that it was throttling back (or should that be rheostating back?) on it’s “i” branded EV program, in part due to a lack of public charging station infrastructure. A company that sells as many gasoline and diesel powered cars as BMW does can afford to temper its enthusiasm for cars that run on electrons. A company that only sells battery powered electric cars, as Tesla does, doesn’t have that luxury.

If a lack of charging stations limits the rate of acceptance of EVs by consumers, well then, the businesses (and governments) with an interest in the growth of EV sales will just have to create that charging infrastructure, so Tesla just opened the first four of what is planned to be a nationwide network of more than 100 high speed charging stations that will let most Tesla Model S owners recharge their cars quickly, for free. While the notion of refueling your car at a station owned by the car’s manufacturer might seem a bit unusual, after all we don’t buy gasoline at Ford or Toyota filling stations, the idea is not really a new one, at least as far as electric cars are concerned. Tesla’s automaker owned charging stations were predated by over a century.


Electric cars were first popular a hundred years ago, and finding a place to charge your car was an issue then as well as now. Of course there weren’t gasoline stations on every corner then either so it wasn’t as much of a competitive disadvantage. Some people charged their cars at home – most urban areas of the United States had electric service by then. By 1914 General Electric had sold tens of thousands of mercury arc rectifier based EV chargers. Most of those chargers, it turns out, were installed in public charging stations, usually located in parking garages or at hotels. Some hotels also had dedicated curbside chargers for use by electric taxi cabs.

Until Tesla sells a few thousand more cars, the Detroit Electric, manufactured by the Anderson Carriage company and corporate successors, will still be the most successful electric car ever sold, at least in terms of units sold. About 20,000 Detroit Electrics were sold between 1907 and 1939. As a matter of fact, the Detroit Electric’s fortunes more or less parallel the early history of electric cars, peaking between 1910 and 1920, eventually overcome by the rapid technological improvements in internal combustion engines.

Just as Tesla is opening up a network of EV charging stations, a century ago Detroit Electric operated public charging stations for their customers (and others as well since most EVs of the era used a standard charging plug). Tesla is said to be locating their stations near trendy restaurants. A hundred years ago Detroit Electric also tried to accommodate their generally affluent customers (electric cars were significantly more expensive than typical gasoline powered cars) by locating company owned charging stations near where their customers lived, worked and played. In Detroit, there was a Detroit Electric showroom, repair garage and charging station near the foot of Woodward, another just across the bridge from the Belle Isle island park, and a third near the exclusive Boston-Edison residential district, nor far from where Henry and Clara Ford lived. Clara was not fond of “explosion” automobiles and like Helen Joy, the wife of Packard chief Henry Joy, Clara had her own Detroit Electric. The building for the charging station near Belle Isle still stands and is used by a theatrical prop company.

The charging stations were large, about 17,000 sq ft, and could accommodate charging more than 100 vehicles at a time. Detroit Electric offered a service where owners of Detroit Electric cars paid $35-$40 a month and their cars would be picked up, charged, washed, polished, given a complete mechanical inspection and then delivered back to the customer’s house. According to one inflation calculator, that works out to ~$800-$900 a month.

By 1912, Detroit Electric had sales branches and charging stations in Manhattan, Chicago , Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Cleveland, Evanston, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Route guides were published, showing the location of Detroit Electric and other public charging stations to show that electric cars were not just suitable for city use, by the Electric Vehicle Association, Goodrich tires and the Automobile Blue Book publishing company. The EVA even published a route guide for charging stations along the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental highway, though few EVs could have made the trip, as there was one leg with 190 miles between charging stations, a distance beyond the range of any electric cars made at the time. EV drivers were resourceful, though, and in a pinch they’d get a charge from the power cables used by electric streetcars.

Hope and the future promise of battery electric cars spring eternal. In the Feb. 1913 issue of Country Life in America (that also has an ad for REO automobiles penned by Ransom E. Olds himself), the publication’s automotive writer, one Ryland P. Madison, discussed the problems and promise of EVs in a manner that could be be repeated almost verbatim today:

Their well-known deficiency is a lack of ability to carry sufficient storage capacity to give long mileage at high speeds or under heavy loads… In the last three years there has been a marked improvement in storage batteries – so great that some engineers believe that electrics will be the universal car of the future.

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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