Start-up revives Detroit Electric brand, vows Tesla-like sports car this year

After a few years of boom and bust, the electric car market has lately settled into a rut, as established automakers try to meet regulatory goals mostly with a few everyday models converted to electric power rather than designing all-new electric cars, leaving Tesla as the only independent, high-volume EV builder. Here's the first attempt to shake up that stasis, the launch of a start-up that will revive the century-old name of Detroit Electric cars — with a car that on paper looks much like a Tesla Roadster.

The new Detroit Electric company revealed today after years of fund-raising and stealth engineering it would reveal its first model next month, a two-seat all-electric sports car that would be a harbinger of future models. The company will not just take Detroit as a brand but base its headquarters in the city, vowing to generate 180 jobs and open a Michigan plant that can build 2,500 vehicles a year.

Detroit Electric's executives hail from former parts of the Lotus engineering group, and it has previously said it had contracts with Malaysian automaker Proton for production overseas, as well as contacts with Chinese automaker Dongfeng. It vows the new model will roll forth this August, followed by more family-friendly vehicles in 2014, but declined to offer specifics about where its key parts such as lithium-ion batteries would come from.

The original Detroit Electric was a popular electric car builder in the early 20th century, when hand-cranked gasoline engines were known for dislocating shoulders and even killing drivers. Despite then-celebrity clientele like Henry Ford's wife and Thomas Edison, the company only managed to build 2,000 cars a year at its peak and faded into collapse during the Great Depression. Outside of Tesla, which was backed with billions of dollars in private capital and a $465 million government loan, modern EV companies have fared no better, unable to solve the complex equation of capital, technology and engineering necessary to stay in business. Who says you can't find optimists in Detroit?