Detroit Electric enters electric car business with Proton

Hot on the heels of Tesla’s announcement of its new Model S electric sedan comes news of a new automaker entering the electric vehicle race.

The impending deal we told you about last week between Detroit Electric and Proton is now official. On Monday, Netherlands-based Detroit Electric and Proton signed a $555 million deal to manufacture zero emission electric vehicles based on Proton platforms.

Under the agreement, Detroit Electric vehicles will be built using Proton’s underutilized manufacturing capacity in Malaysia. The electric motor, lithium polymer battery, and other drivetrain components of Detroit Electric patented design will be fitted to Proton Persona and Gen-2 vehicles with future possibility of fitment in the new Proton Exora minivan and possibly Lotus Elise. Unique sheetmetal will distinguish the Detroit Electric cars from Proton’s existing lineup.

Ambitious plans include sales of 270,000 electric vehicles by 2012 in Europe, the UK, China, and the United States. Pricing is expected to fall from $23,000 to $26,000 for the city-range model (111-mile range) and $28,000 to $33,000 for the extended-range model (200-mile range). To help facilitate entry into Europe and the United States in particular, Detroit Electric is currently looking for another Western manufacturing partner to assist in meeting those areas’ more rigorous standards.

Pricing and technical estimates are based upon 18 months of Detroit Electric development work on Proton vehicles. Other vehicles experimented with during the development process were the Lotus Elise and VW Golf.

Detroit Electric will soon complete the establishment of two subsidiaries: Detroit Electric Energy to manufacture the battery and Detroit Electric Advanced Propulsion Lab which will manufacture the controller and motor. Both will be located in Malaysia near Proton’s car factories. By 2012, Detroit Electric hopes to produce 400,000 electric drive powertrain systems to satisfy both internal production needs and to set up an outside electric car consulting operation similar to Lotus Engineering. This development shouldn’t come as much surprise when you consider that Detroit Electric is owned by ex-Lotus Engineering CEO Albert Lam.

Lam remarked, “When you are trying to redefine the automotive industry, you need to bring many partners along. Our contract manufacturing business model will breathe new life into current manufacturers, leveraging existing unutilized global resources and accelerating the technological advancement of pure electric vehicles.”

Despite the economic downturn, Lam is confident that Detroit Electric will find buyers for its vehicles. “Our target audience are those who purchase practical and affordable vehicles. This makes our products fit the pockets of a very wide audience – from professionals and executives, to mothers, students and small business owners.

“We will be the spark that triggers change and tells people now is the time. Let’s push change in the industry for environment’s sake, for the sake of less dependency on petrol, for the sake of zero emission and for noiseless driving.”

Part of the agreement also allows Proton to construct its own vehicles with Detroit Electric’s EV system for sale under its own brands in Asia, after a 9-month evaluation period of Detroit Electric’s technology. Expect this to mean Youngman Lotus Europestar EV vehicles for sale in China, which should give Youngman Lotus Europestar a real competitive advantage over other Chinese rivals. Among Chinese car brands, only BYD has made a serious initiative toward EV vehicles, with the launch several months ago of the world’s first production dual-mode electric car.

If Detroit Electric succeeds, it will be part of a small but growing club of automakers around the world engaging the electric vehicle market. Chevrolet has much hyped its impending Volt electric car, with plans to sell the Volt around the world through its Opel and Holden subsidiaries at an estimated price of around $40,000 in the United States. Should Detroit Electric prove able to fulfill its pricing estimate, General Motors could have a real competitor. Tesla’s Model S sedan is expected to retail at an estimated price of $57,400, although it won’t hit the road until at least the 3rd quarter of 2011.

British-owned and Netherlands-based, Detroit Electric is a revival of the once-popular American brand from the early 20th century. With the establishment of the subsidiaries in Malaysia, talk about a multinational car company!

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