In a small factory in the UK — yes, the UK — a Lotus-based electric sports car with an American name has defied the naysayers and become a reality.
The Detroit Electric SP-01 is one of those cars that motoring writers seemed to denounce as vapourware almost as soon as it was announced, more than two years ago. And indeed, the Lotus Elise-based electric sports car has seen its share of development hiccups and course corrections, leading more than a few industry watchers to conclude that — like such unkept promises as the Vector WX8 and the Peter Stevens-designed Prodrive P2 — the SP:01 was a non-starter. Well, the naysayers can stand down: the first SP:01 has rolled off the production line at the company’s small factory in the UK — yes, the UK, near the famed healing waters of Leamington Spa, in fact.
Now, this isn’t the first electric car based on the Elise; the original Tesla Roadster used the lightweight Lotus as its starting point. And Elon’s two-seater, which carried a battery pack comprised of 6,831 lithium-ion cells, was plenty quick; the SP-01 should be at least as fast. It features a carbon fibre composite body over a chassis of bonded aluminium. Fully loaded, it tips the scales at 2,590lbs — about 140lbs less than the old Tesla but a hefty 500lbs more than a petrol-powered Elise. It’s nothing that heaps of power can’t remedy, though. The car uses a 285-horsepower electric motor to drive the rear wheels, matched to a standard single-speed transmission or an optional two-speed automatic — or, in the top-spec version, a six speed manual. With the stick, the car will bolt from zero to 60mph in 3.7 seconds and press on to a limited top speed of 155mph.
Speed aside, the SP:01’s neatest trick is its built-in bi-directional charge and discharge capability. Similar to the power-sharing system in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s recent 3D-printed experimental utility vehicle, the Detroit Electric setup, dubbed ‘360-Powerback’, allows the car to charge or be charged by the home to which it is connected.
Even though the first SP:01 has rolled off the line and been sent on its way to an unidentified buyer in an unidentified location, the company (which is headquartered in The Netherlands, by the way) has yet to announce the car’s retail price. One thing is certain, though: the figure won’t be in American dollars. Despite its name, a nod to a defunct US-based maker of electric carriages from 1907 to 1938, the Detroit Electric sports car won’t be available in Detroit — or anywhere else in America. The company plans to sell the SP:01 only in Europe, Asia and few other select markets, including Iceland and South Africa.
Detroit Electric’s CEO, Albert Lam, who announced the SP:01 with stars-and-stripes-waving enthusiasm back in 2013, doesn’t take the company’s geographic incongruity lightly. “We are Detroit Electric, not London Electric,” said Lam, former CEO of the Lotus Engineering Group. “Our commitment to the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the United States is as strong as it ever was.” But as the saying goes, love is a verb, and whether Lam can turn affectionate words into action remains to be seen. The company has promised that if things go well for its UK-built sports car, it will open a production facility in its namesake city to build a clean-sheet electric sedan.