The Big Car Database

Detroit Electric

Detroit Electric
Former type
Automobile Manufacturing
Industry Automotive
Genre Electric automobiles
Founded 1907 (historic)
Defunct 1939 (historic)
Detroit, Michigan
United States
Area served
United States
Products Vehicles
Automotive parts
Parent Anderson Electric Car Company (1907); Detroit Electric Holding Ltd. (2008)

The Detroit Electric is a modern all-electric car brand by Detroit Electric Holding Ltd. of the Netherlands, from 2008

Detroit Electric was an electric car produced by the Anderson Electric Car Company in Detroit, Michigan. The company built 13,000 electric cars from 1907 to 1939.


1911 Detroit Electric at the California Automobile Museum
1915 Detroit Electric Brougham
1916 Detroit Electric in Brussels Autoworld Museum
1920 advertisement
1917 Detroit Electric in Maffra, Victoria, Australia, 2007

Anderson had previously been known as the Anderson Carriage Company (until 1911), producing carriages and buggies since 1884. Production of the electric automobile, powered by a rechargeable lead acid battery, began in 1907. For an additional US$600, an Edison nickel-iron battery was available from 1911 to 1916. The cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles (130 km) between battery recharging, although in one test a Detroit Electric ran 211.3 miles (340.1 km) on a single charge. Top speed was only about 20 mph (32 km/h), but this was considered adequate for driving within city or town limits at the time. Today, the rare few examples in running condition that are still privately owned can have difficulty being licensed in some countries due to their very low speed. Today, due to time taking a toll on the efficiency of the engines, and due to having to use batteries that are not as powerful or efficient as the original batteries, as modern car batteries are not intended for continued output, many are only able to achieve their advertised top speed downhill, or with favorable winds. Cars in running condition only are operated uncommonly, and for short distances. Running Cars weigh more than they were built to, because owners will install roughly 14 car batteries, and a balancing charger, rather than the original batteries that weighed much less. Cars today must have their battery sets changed relatively frequently. For example, a private owner whom is only the 3rd owner of his car, has changed batteries 3 times since purchasing his vehicle in 1988.

The Detroit Electric was mainly sold to women drivers and physicians who desired the dependable and immediate start without the physically demanding hand cranking of the engine that was required with early internal combustion engine autos. A statement of the car's refinement was subtly made to the public through its design which included the first use of curved window glass in a production automobile, an expensive and complex feature to produce.

The company production was at its peak in the 1910s selling around 1000 to 2000 cars a year. Towards the end of the decade, the Electric was helped by the high price of gasoline during World War I. In 1920, the name of the Anderson company was changed to "The Detroit Electric Car Company" as the car maker separated from the body business (it became part of Murray Body) and the motor/controller business (Elwell-Parker).

As improved internal combustion engine automobiles became more common and inexpensive, sales of the Electric dropped in the 1920s, but the company stayed in business producing Detroit Electrics until after the stock market crash of 1929. The company filed for bankruptcy, but was acquired and kept in business on a more limited scale for some years, building cars in response to special orders. The last Detroit Electric was shipped on February 23, 1939, (though they were still available until 1942), but in its final years the cars were manufactured only in very small numbers. Between 1907 and 1939 a total of 13,000 electric cars were built.

Notable people who owned Detroit Electrics cars included Thomas Edison, Lizzie Borden, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Mamie Eisenhower, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who had a pair of Model 46 roadsters. Clara Ford, the wife of Henry Ford, drove Detroit Electrics from 1908, when Henry bought her a Model C coupe with a special child seat, through the late teens. Her third car was a 1914 Model 47 brougham.

Detroit Electrics can be seen in various automobile museums, such as the Forney Transport Museum in Denver Colorado, Belgian AutoWorld Museum in Brussels, The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan and the Museum Autovision in Altlußheim, Germany. A restored and operational Detroit Electric, owned by Union College, is located in the Edison Tech Center in Schenectady, NY. One 1914 model Is also located, restored and fully operational, near Frankenmuth, Michigan and another is at the Motor Museum of Western Australia in Perth Australia, a 1914 Brougham in excellent condition.