Tesla did it, Mercedes-Benz is doing it, so why can't a Detroit company do it too?

In this case, "it" is building a pricey, limited-production, two-seat all-electric sports car.

Detroit Electric, a famous name adopted by a five-year-old startup in the Motor City, will reveal its plans next month for such a two-seat electric sports car.

And the shadowy teaser photo the company released today bears a striking resemblance to a certain all-American fiberglass sports car bearing a bowtie emblem--though it also very much resembles a Lotus Elise.

Another Electric Lotus?

Like the Tesla Roadster before it, Detroit Electric's use of the Lotus Elise as a basis for an electric sports car makes good sense--less weight to move means greater capability and range for a given supply of battery power.

Sales are to start in August, the company says, with production capacity of up to 2,500 cars a year (coincidentally the total number of Tesla Roadsters built) at an unspecified site.

"Certain to quicken pulses thanks to its bold styling, outstanding performance, exhilarating handling characteristics and impressive range," trumpets the press release, "this new sports car will be launched early next month in Detroit."

The unveiling will be followed by the car's global launch to the public at the Shanghai Motor Show in April.

2011 Lotus Elise

2011 Lotus Elise

And Detroit Electric will shortly release details of its "major partnership" with a "global automaker" along with other news about its plans.

Tesla and others

The 2009 Tesla Roadster pioneered the electric sports-car genre, and the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive is the latest contender.

Detroit Electric, the company that plans to build the new two-seat electric sports car, says it will bring 180 jobs to the area over the next year.

And it says the electric sports car is just the first in a range of high-performance electric cars to be designed and built domestically right there in Detroit.

The Lotus-based car is to "spearhead a diverse family of all-electric production cars, including two other high-performance models that will enter production by end of 2014."

1914 Detroit Electric car, owned by GE scientist Charles Steinmetz, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

1914 Detroit Electric car, owned by GE scientist Charles Steinmetz, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

Its DNA, says CEO Albert Lam, "will be translated across to our future sedans; all our cars will be fun to drive and deliver exceptional performance within their class."

Honorable history

The name Detroit Electric is well established in the annals of electric-car history; the company built 13,000 electric cars from 1907 to 1939. Buyers included Thomas Edison, Mamie Eisenhower, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Henry Ford's wife Clara.

Many of them are still on the road today, including a 1914 Detroit Electric formerly owned by famed General Electric scientist Charles Steinmetz.

The latest iteration of the brand is owned by a company that proudly touts its hometown roots, with a headquarters offices on the 18th floor of the iconic Fisher Building in downtown Detroit.

Calling the company the "fourth car manufacturer born out of Detroit," executives thanked the State of Michigan for its support in carrying on the "legacy" of the famous name.

Detroit Electric e63

Detroit Electric e63

Stillborn electric sedan schemes

Five years ago, the Detroit Electric name was resuscitated after 70  years by a startup company with grand plans--including a $25,000 all-electric compact sedanto be introduced in late 2010.

The electric sedan, called the e63, was to be based on a vehicle from Malaysian maker Proton Holdings, which partnered with Detroit Electric on the project.

The Proton scheme did not advance, despite attempts to sign up 150 dealers to sell the car.

Detroit Electric had projected first-year sales of 40,000 units. As it turned out, that was more than twice the total number of plug-in cars sold in 2011.

Later in 2009, Detroit Electric announced a partnership with Dongfeng Motor of China to produce an all-electric vehicle for sale in the U.S.

That deal, too, appears to have been stillborn.


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