Electric Cars Turning Cali Into Green Detroit

detroit electricOver a century ago Anderson Electric Car Company started making electric cars under the brand “Detroit Electric” out of that well-known industrial city. More recently ZAP (ZAAP) and China Youngman Automotive Group have rebranded their joint electric vehicle-making venture as “Detroit Electric” in a homage to the electric automotive pioneers. And like its forebear, the new Detroit Electric is looking into making their cars in America.

But Detroit is no longer the center of automotive innovation and now the Golden State is becoming a focal point of the EV revolution. California has been one of the centers of cleantech and electric vehicle research and more recently has started to become a manufacturing hub of electric vehicles. As Detroit lays off workers by the thousands – Chrysler alone is in the midst of laying off 13,000 employees – venture-funded electric car startups have started to bring some car manufacturing jobs back to the States, particularly California.

Detroit Electric is just the latest EV firm that could bring manufacturing jobs to Cali. The company says beyond 2009 there’s a “possibility of bringing new manufacturing and green collar jobs to California.” The release refers to the state as its “launch pad:”

“It is one of the most ready markets to adopt these new green vehicle solutions. . . The governor and his leadership here have created a fertile environment for us to create and grow.” Detroit Electric Chairman Albert Lam.

Electric sports car maker Tesla told us this week that the company will be moving its battery pack production from Thailand to California. The company also hopes to one day buy its battery cells, now made in Japan, from domestic manufacturers.

Phoenix Motors currently has an assembly line in Ontario, Calif. to build its electric pickups and SUVs. The Phoenix chassis are shipped from South Korea, but all modifications and assembly are done on American soil while Altairnano produces the lithium batteries for Phoenix’s vehicles at their Indiana facility.

Aptera, which we wrote about here, will be manufacturing its vehicles in its Carlsbad, Calif. facility. And Venture Vehicles, funded last summer, will be building its “VentureOne” in California too.

Meanwhile, electric car makers are also moving into the big three’s old turf. Tesla Motors opened up its Michigan Technical Center in Rochester Hills, outside of Detroit, where work on its WhiteStar sedan is taking place. And electric car designer-turned-builder Fisker Automotive is rumored to be looking for some manufacturing space for its plug-in hybrid in the Detroit area too.

And, yes, the numbers are still small for green jobs in EV making. Tiny electric car maker Commuter Cars assembles its vehicles in Spokane, Wash. but employs only six people. Even bigger electric car makers, like Tesla with its 200+ employees, pale in comparison to the thousands of autoworkers getting laid off and bought out by the big three domestic car makers.

Still the number of jobs in electric car manufacturing continues to go up as all these EV makers ramp up domestic production including Myers Motors of Ohio, and Spark Electric Vehicles’ Comet will be “made in the USA”.

As work on internal-combustion based vehicles flows out of the country, electrics vehicles could recharge the American automotive workforce and California could be the green Detroit.


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