Detroit Electric is reborn. Just not in Detroit.

Are you a fan of cheap symbolism? Well then, feast on this: a popular and successful electric car used to be produced in the United States under the name Detroit Electric. Competition with conventional gasoline-powered cars finally shuttered the line — in 1939. Now the Detroit Electric brand is being revived by a British entrepreneur as a Netherlands-based company backed with Chinese money, marketing modern electric cars built by a Malaysian manufacturing company.

This is the part where we’re all supposed to gnash our teeth about the decline of the American automotive industry, but probably you should save your tears for a worthier cause. Fact is, this sort of thing is very good news for the environment. Detroit Electric plans to sell over a quarter million of the cars across the U.S., Europe, and Asia in 2012. I think it’s telling that Albert Lam, the Chairman and CEO of the new Detroit Electric, spent a significant portion of his career working at companies like Sun and Apple. The center of gravity in the automotive industry is shifting in a needed direction.

Meanwhile, Coulomb Technologies, maker of electric car charging infrastructure, is edging up to profitability, and says that the next three years will define the market. Three years isn’t a lot of time for such a young industry, but it also happens to be the deadline that London has set itself for installing 25,000 car charging points around the city. Heady days, indeed.

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  1. Tim Brown - July 8, 2009

    Has there been any written discussion of what the effect of electric cars will be on the capacity of the electric grid and the further contribution to pollution from coal fired plants because of it?

  2. Adam Stein - July 8, 2009

    Yes, there have been many studies of this issue. Here’s one from the Department of Energy:
    http://www.pnl.gov/news/release.asp?id=204
    The gist of the analyses is generally that there’s plenty of spare capacity (particularly off-peak) in the grid to support electric cars, and even with our current generation mix, the switch would cause a reduction in CO2 emissions. As we increase the supply of renewable energy, the emissions profile of electric cars will continue to get even better.

  3. scribblin - July 8, 2009

    I don’t know the specs for the Detroit Electric, but I’m ready to buy an electric car with a 120-mile range, 60 m.p.h. cruising capability, decent crash rating, that costs $8,000 or less (financing must be available) – BUT I’m not buying a Detroit Electric. Let’s think about this situation for a moment:
    1. According to a recent Google/AFP article, the U.S. trade deficit with China has ballooned to 20.6 BILLION dollars. That’s wealth flowing from here to there and not returning. This doesn’t happen because their products are better. It happens because a protectionist Chinese government intentionally devalues the yen against the dollar and sets high tariffs on American products in order to maintain an unfair trade advantage (imbalance).
    2. Is it good for the environment, really, for us to purchase cars made in countries where we have no legislative control over any environmental policies? Think of the mining of raw materials, production into usable parts, handling of toxic battery (and other) materials, production of the car, and shipping it here…and we have no say in how any of that affects the environment. Further, if you look at the World Resources Institute index of 185 nations by greenhouse gas emissions per capita (reported by Wikipedia), both Malaysia (67th) and China (72nd) rank well below the United States (7th). Yikes. That doesn’t make me feel very environmentally warm and fuzzy.
    3. Consider also the human rights issues present in both China and Malaysia. Malaysia is a bit better, but still there is only theoretical religious freedom (see the Wikipedia article on Malaysia, religion sections), 11.3% adult literacy (United Nations Human Development Index), and those workers building your car had better not forget to carry their state-issued biometric I.D. card with them: there’s a three-year prison sentence for forgetting it.
    4. We should gnash our teeth over any unnecessary American manufacturing loss (see the trade imbalance, point 1, above), especially when it is caused by greedy corporate execs and the politicians (of both parties) they buy with campaign funds, future job offers, and other perks. And we should shed tears, not for them, but for the tens of thousands of Americans who are losing, or will lose, their jobs as American manufacturing jobs continue to disappear or be exported.
    5. We need to fix what’s broken in American manufacturing, not dance on the ashes and ship our wealth overseas to places that don’t share our values, particularly liberty and human dignity. Silicon Valley, I’m ready to buy your electric cars and employ Americans. I won’t crush a human in order to hug a tree. I want both. Let’s go; bring the goods.

  4. Anonymous - July 8, 2009

    Oops…in point 5, I mean I want to hug both. Sorry.

  5. Paul - July 8, 2009

    There are about 15 companies in China producing electric cars and trucks for a number of years while Detroit elected to buy foreign small cars and stick their name plate on them to meet US mileage goals. Detroit has abandoned US goals and values to push big trucks and SUV’s for profit. We have failed as a society to create the demand necessary to motivate greedy Detroit in a responsible direction. As an experiment, we bought an electric car (through a US distributor) from China for $9,000. delivered. The car is limited to 35mph and goes 60 miles on a charge; obviously an around town car. The quality was poor but I cannot understand why similar vehicles cannot be built in the US.

  6. Anonymous - July 13, 2009

    Let’s all MOVE to CHINA then……….
    Why can’t American’s do anything right anymore…….Do we all have ADHD…….Is there No one left in Detroit with BRAINS.
    I am from Detroit and Not proud of it sometimes…..What is so wrong with Electric cars that We cannot make them….???
    I want one bad but not from another Country.I want USA MADE Product’s ONLY!
    I will WAIT FOR IT…………I am POOR!
    But that’s not the reason…I want ELECTRIC for all of us so we can breathe Clean AIR…

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