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COMMENT: Pioneering to a borrowed blueprint

BY MEGAN LAMPINEN. Detroit Electric is emphasising "innovation" and "pioneering spirit", but that hasn't stopped it from borrowing heavily from Tesla's playbook

The EV market may be strewn with the corpses of defunct companies, but the casualties haven’t deterred Detroit Electric. Nor have failed partnerships and numerous production obstacles. As this week demonstrates, the EV start-up continues to soldier on.

Led by former Lotus head Albert Lam, Detroit Electric has promised the market an all-electric sports car to be called the SP:01. The final exterior was unveiled this week, as well as a new brand logo and a video teasing the upcoming SP:01. It’s clear that the company is determined to make a go of it, despite a rough start.

Lam only revived the Detroit Electric name about five years ago and already the company has gone through three different proposed sites for production. To start with, manufacturing was to take place in Detroit. Then it switched to the Netherlands and more recently it’s been confirmed for the UK. There has also been a change in business strategy, with an initial proposed partnership with Proton scrapped without explanation. Since the deal seemed to fall apart around 2009, the company has been focussing on development of its SP:01.

Detroit Electric - Final design of SP01 production vehicle showing new fastback design
The final design of the SP:01 production vehicle

Hopefully there won’t be any more major strategic changes, as sales are to begin next year in Asia, Europe and North America. Unlike another upmarket EV manufacturer attracting much media attention lately, Detroit Electric plans to stick with the traditional franchised dealer approach and is currently looking for dealers.

This may be one of the few areas in which Detroit Electric is not following in Tesla’s footsteps. Lam has emphasised “innovation” and “pioneering spirit” in the brand’s launch, but in many areas, the new company has borrowed heavily from Tesla’s playbook. The SP:01 is based on the Lotus Elise platform, which is not surprising considering Lam comes from Lotus, but it is also the same platform that underpinned the now discontinued Tesla Roadster model. While Detroit Electric is kicking off with a sports car model, as Tesla did, Detroit Electric also intends to eventually roll out a family of electric vehicles that will include a sedan and a hatchback. Tesla is working to similar plans with its Model S and Model X.

While Detroit Electric’s business approach may not be unique, at least it is borrowing from a strong example. Tesla has established itself as a successful leader in terms of technology and innovation. It was just named the leading automotive company in terms of innovation by Strategy&, part of the PwC network. Strategy& Partner Jens Nackmayr told Automotive World that Tesla had a “disruptive mind set” with a “let’s just do it” attitude – to survive in today’s brutal EV market, there are worse examples for Detroit Electric to copy.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Megan Lampinen is Business Editor at Automotive World.

The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact




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