100-year-old model for electric car coming back

The Detroit Electric--an electric car from the turn of the 20th century and a fine example of Yankee know-how--will come out in a limited edition.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read

It was good enough for John D. Rockefeller Jr.

To promote itself, Detroit Electric--a new joint venture between Zap and China's Youngman Automotive Group--plan to release a limited number of cars based around the Detroit Electric, an electric car produced by the Anderson Electric Car Co. in the early part of the 20th century.

Anderson produced various models of the Detroit Electric from 1907 to 1939. Customers included Henry Ford and Rockefeller. It was also featured on a stamp. TV host Jay Leno has some of the cars in his collection.

Zap CEO Steve Schneider and Albert Lam, Detroit's CEO. Detroit

When the opportunity came up to buy the brand, Zap and Youngman decided to go for it, said Zap co-founder and CEO Steve Schneider. The reissued car will be based on a model from around 100 years ago.

"For the bride to be, or the bride of many Junes ago, a Detroit Electric," read a company advertisement from decades ago. "No other bridal present means so much, expresses so perfectly all you need to say."

The company advertised quite a bit in Cosmopolitan. During the 1910s, Anderson employed 1,100 people (and not a drunkard, scalawag or reprobate among them!).

Back in 1917, a Detroit Electric cost anywhere from $1,775 to $2,375--in other words, fit for the proletarian or plutocrat. The cars could go 65 miles to 100 miles on a battery charge, but only go at speeds ranging from 6 miles per hour to 25 mph.

Although the company was growing in the 1910s, prices continued to drop on combustion cars, which started to sap sales in the 1920s. The stock market crash of 1929 then took a toll on the company. It lingered through the 1930s before collapsing in 1939.

But it wasn't for lack of enthusiasm.

"The magnificent Detroit Electric is easily the enclosed car sensation of the year," read another ad. Huzzah!

Detroit, in its new incarnation, will start coming out with electric economy cars in 2010.