The Detroit Electric brand is set to return almost 60 years after it shut down. Its hopefully the first of many American automotive brands that are is tapping into American automotive history for for some attention. Once only a museum exhibit, the resuscitated brand is a joint announcement between US electric car pioneer ZAP and China Youngman Automotive Group. They are reviving the 100- year-old electric car brand Detroit Electric for their joint venture and hope to bring the car to market by 2009.
Above, Steve Schneider, CEO of ZAP, and Detroit Electric Chairman Albert Lam celebrate the revival of Detroit Electric next to a 1918 Detroit Electric 75 Coupe, which was on display February 9-12, 2008 at the National Automobile Dealers Association Conference and Expo in San Francisco (PRNewsFoto/ZAP).
Detroit Electric was an early 20th Century electric car, perhaps the most popular in history. The Anderson Electric Car Company started building the cars under the Detroit Electric brand over 100 years ago; the company closed in 1939. The company will build a special replica car to celebrate the brand, a car that had customers like Thomas Edison, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Henry Ford’s Wife Clara, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
The trend of Chinese interest in revived American brand names is a trend that will continue. Unlike other Asian countries like Japan and Korea, China seems to have a love of Western brand names and no insecurity about using them. It is smart business; the Chinese get some instant awareness for their company that gives them a one-up in the American market. And the U.S. gets a boost as high-margin planning, distribution, design and marketing jobs are created in the U.S. From the analytics of BrandlandUSA, many of the web searches that find BrandlandUSA are coming from Asian exporters searching for “dead brands” that can be used on products for the export market.
GM, with its defunct Olds brand, and Chrysler, with its defunct Plymouth and DeSoto brands, would do well to look at this case study. U.S. automakers have not been as good at reviving old nameplates as European makers, which have revived Mini, Bugatti and Bentley. While GM and Chrysler might not be ready to bring back these storied nameplates, the option of producing a replica model is an easy way to keep the intellectual property alive. And the knowledge that there is interest in these brands in Asia is evidence that while these brands might not be up for a revival in the U.S., they might come back abroad.
A bit of advice: The Nash Metropolitian is a more interesting car than the Mini, and the Mini came back.