1916 Detroit Electric and owner, Jack Beatty at SAE World Congress 2012

1916 Detroit Electric Model 60 Brougham makes surprise SAE World Congress 2012 appearance

It is fitting that an electric vehicle from the early days of the automobile would make an appearance at the SAE World Congress 2012 in Detroit.

Before I even entered the main gateway on the floor of the SAE World Congress, my eye caught this 1916 Detroit Electric, Model 60 Brougham. It is owned by Jack Beatty of Ann Arbor, who also owns a 1925 Detroit Electric.

Again, it is fitting that an electric vehicle from the early days of the automobile would make an appearance at the SAE World Congress 2012 in Detroit, because we are returning automobiles to their roots which is electric.

Now, do not take this wrong. The gasoline engine surely made the industry become acceptable and ubiquitous. However, it seems the technology for gasoline engines advanced much faster than electrification. Now, with the advent of lithium-ion batteries and other battery chemistries, the electric force is once again returning in a dramatic fashion towards driving automobiles.

Question is, just how far will we go those time with electrics? Mostly likely all the way, especially for automobiles, but not overnight simply due to cost. Hybrids seem the best compromise. With large trucks, electrification will likely take more of a hybrid role as well simply due to weight and power, especially with natural gas making headway to replace diesel fuel.

Back to the Roots of Our Future

According the handout I received from Jack Beatty, the Detroit Electric was produced between 1907 to 1939, and holds the record for the last surviving electric automobile. In addition, it is the longest lasting EV and holds the record for the total number of EVs produced.

This vehicle was first produced in Detroit by the Anderson Carriage Company, and by 1911 the company was known as the Anderson Electric Automobile company. In 1919, the company name change again to become the Detroit Electric Car company.

Early models included both a roadster style and a traditional phone booth style, noted by its high roof. By 1912, though, all the roofs were of the traditional phone booth design. Early models employed a chain drive between an electric motor positioned under the seat and a rear differential. However, by 1912, all cars employed a direct shaft between the motor and the differential.


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Very cool. At a show a few months ago, I saw an Allis-Chalmers electric tractor, though electrified farm machinery never really caught on. These very early machines in American history are cool to see.