Saleen Announces "Revolutionary" Electric Supercar, a Trend Inspired by Tesla

By · December 06, 2013

Saleen S7

The Saleen S7: it could be the fastest production car in the world. (Jim Motavalli photo)

In a certain type of dorm room, the Saleen 7 has pride of place as what may just be the fastest street car ever produced. The Ford-based road rocket features a huge seven-liter twin-turbo V-8 capable of 750 horsepower and zero to 62 mph in just 3.2 seconds—theoretically, 248 mph is possible. The company is probably best known for souping up the Mustang, and that work should pick up now a new model has been announced. Despite all that, Saleen’s next project is…an electric car.

A Trend, Not a Fad

Conversations with auto moguls as diverse as Henrik Fisker, Elon Musk, Reeves Callaway, the late Carroll Shelby (who would have loved to build a hybrid Cobra) and assorted muckety-mucks at Porsche and Mercedes reveal a deep-seated desire to equate high performance with environmental returns. Sometimes, as with the Fisker Karma, it delivers a car that’s trying hard but not really achieving in either of those categories, and sometimes it delivers the Model S. The runaway success of the latter is undoubtedly going to inspire more announcements like this one.

According to Steve Saleen, the company’s CEO, “We recognize that electric cars are a trend, not a fad, and expect this vehicle category to continue to increase as an automotive option for consumers.” He said his new car will be “revolutionary in its aesthetics and mechanics” and urged Saleen’s fans to “throw away your preconceived notions and expectations.”

Speculation is that Saleen is going to build a two-seater. “An EV sports car from Saleen could fill the void left by the Tesla Roadster’s discontinuation,” says Motor Trend. Its S5S Raptor Concept could be the basis for such a car.

Saleen S5S Raptor

The Saleen S5S Raptor: Will the electric Saleen look like this?. (Saleen photo)

Legacy Cars for the Moguls

Porsche’s $845,000 918 Spyder, a plug-in hybrid, is another example of having-it-all supercars—if you could possibly afford it. The company claims that in 127-horsepower electric mode that car delivers 18 miles of range, at speeds up to…93 mph. But with the 608-horsepower V-8 cranked, well, get out of its way. That means the car’s emissions profile will be all over the map, but it’s the price you pay for schizophrenic cars like this.

Introductions From Europe

As Laurent Masson has written for, the ground is becoming thick with EV supercars, particularly in Europe. In Paris, Mercedes showed off the $540,000 SLS AMG Electric Drive/E-Cell, with four wheel motors, a 60-kilowatt-hour pack, and a massive 552 kilowatts on tap (more power than the gas AMG)—plus 738 pound feet of torque.

You might expect Mercedes partner Tesla to have breathed on this car, but you’d be wrong. According to Car and Driver, “Mercedes insists that Tesla—in which it now has a stake of ownership—was in no way involved in the development of the E-Cell.” But even if Tesla didn’t engineer the car, it’s there in spirit. All the luxury/performance marques are chasing Tesla, both because of its sales numbers and because of the prestige factor.

Also shown in Paris was the oddly named twin-motored $523,000 Exagon Furtive eGT, which offers zero to 62 in 3.5 seconds, 296 kilowatts and 381 pound feet of torque.

Steve Saleen says he’ll have more details on his EV early next year, when he promises scale models. He says expedited completion of his plug-in dreams can be realized because of “the rapid pace of advancements in electric vehicle technology.” By that he means high-performance motors, controllers and lightweight, modular battery packs of 85 kilowatt-hours or more, right out of the Tesla playbook, enabling both long range and insane zero to 60 times.


· · 19 weeks ago

It's all well and good that someone else beside Tesla wants to build a another grand touring 2-seater EV (true "sports cars" are typically smaller and priced much lower than GTs - think Austin-Healey, MG, etc. - and we really haven't seen a production electric version of one of those yet)

But who, ultimately, do these race cars for the road serve? It's just another plaything for the uber rich who wants to pretend they're green by using as much electricity to break the speed limit as 3 or 4 conventional EVs would consume on a humanly proportioned commute drive.

Wake me up when some of these billionaires can be talked into building a practical electric-powered people hauler for the rest of us.

· · 19 weeks ago

Although I understand the sentiment Ben, let me offer another view that might make this development more exciting. Cars are, for many people, very emotional purchases. People generally don't want to drive cars that have negative associations, in the same way that people don't want to wear clothes that are not flattering. Bob Lutz has spoken about this, and has even described cars as human "exoskeletons" which I think is a deep insight.

The previous crop of electric cars, like golf carts, NEVs, the Corbin Sparrow and the Commutacar, (perhaps especially these last two) cast EVs as incredibly dorky, low performance, probably dangerous vehicles. And the entire technology got branded with this scarlet letter.

One of Tesla's most genius moves was to reposition electric drive technology as high performance, sexy, high-end luxurious transportation on par or better with any if the high-dollar European vehicles available today. They shifted public perception from undesirable "golf carts" to "space ship".

So I wish the best to Saleen, and hope a bunch of high profile people buy his car and set a new trend of chic that is also environmentally responsible.

· · 19 weeks ago

That's a reasonable assessment, Chris, but the pendulum may swung so far in the direction of these high priced super EVs that we still have a fairly large blank spot between GEM neighborhood vehicles and the sort of thing described in this article. Where are PHEV minivans and the more than handful of small/medium-sized EV sedans and coupes? It's rather curious that the "safe" choice for a budding electric car manufacturer now is to offer a cost-no-object 2-seater GTs. They're so plentiful, in fact, that Jim forgot to mention the upcoming Detroit Electric SP.01 . . .

The big news for me this week was the announced relaunch - and big price cut - of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV: a car I've grown fond of since borrowing one and now might actually be able to afford to buy new.

I also caught wind of this very interesting all-in-one (batteries, controller and geared hub in a single package) bicycle hub motor . . .

. . . the Copenhagen Wheel, which is finally going into production. Prototypes were publicly shown about 5 years ago (ie: the MIT GreenWheel) and I assumed that, if it ever got here, it would cost a couple thousand dollars. But, no, it's retailing for just 7 to 8 hundred dollars per copy and they're currently taking preorders. If the early user reviews are good, this is something I'll surely want to add to my bike in 2014.

· · 19 weeks ago

I understand the frustration, to be sure. But Volkswagen and Kia will have affordable offerings in 2014 and the new Mercedes-Benz and Audi A3 e-tron, while not cheap, will be in line with expectations for those brands. There's a fair amount of choice out there now, at least in states that have ZEV mandates. For residents of those states who don't - agitate!

I'm really glad to see the announcement from Saleen because it is going to get a disproportionate amount of attention in the press. A lot more people will be hearing about electric cars, and how cool (or hot, sick, dope, depending on your demographic) they are.

I wouldn't really be expecting anything else from this maker of high-performance exotics.

Honda, on the other hand... After all those really inspirational, aspirational ads and the original groundbreaking Insight, I was really expecting more.

· · 19 weeks ago

Seems like a better article title would be, "Saleen Announces intent to build a "Revolutionary" Electric Supercar".

· · 19 weeks ago Just to put in another word on the i-MiEV (the opposite and IMHO far more important end of the spectrum from this article's EV dream machine), while I welcome every new EV offering "for the rest of us," I do doubt that either VW or Kia is bringing us an EV next year priced anywhere near the new i-MiEV's $23k (actual MSRP before tax credits - that point's especially important because a car in this price range is accessible to households that pay less than $7500 in federal income tax and so would not get the full credit). However they've done it (lowered battery production costs or a decision to accept losses to save the program), the i-MiEV is finally delivering the advantage it was designed to bring - price. In this case it's a price within the budget of any American household looking for a new car.

Sure, electric supercars are an amusing phenomenon (and in the case of Tesla, even an important one). Even so, I wish the i-MiEV relaunch well not only because I'd like some company out here (though I would - I've never seen a fellow MiEVer in the wild), but because I really believe in the "less is more" approach to EVs given current technical and economic constraints. With the enormous cost savings of having only 2/3 the battery of a LEAF, the i-MiEV still delivers better than 3/4 of the range - an impressive exercise in engineered minimalism.

· · 19 weeks ago

I'm a fan of the i, especially at $13k in California. But will widespread adoption be driven by the lowest price point, or by delivering capabilities equal or better than ICEs?

The i's new price point will make this a viable experiment.

· · 19 weeks ago

Widespread adoption is probably going to be spearheaded by a little of both increasingly ICE-like capabilities and diminishing price points. Affordable EVs (Leaf and i-MiEV) are as easy - or easier - to use than comparable ICE cars. They're not golf carts. They get around town well, are safe and economical to operate. Who would have thought we could even say that a decade ago? Prices are starting to come down and that's increasing sales, but range is still an issue.

It's been noted that Tesla probably wouldn't have gotten this far if they had catered to the low end and middle price points in the EV market first. Fair enough. But, as mentioned earlier here, we now seem to have what is starting to look like a glut of high price EV GT roadsters out there. If someone with investment capital wants to take on a segment of the EV market that isn't currently being served, look no further than minivans or small format SUVs. Tesla's upcoming Model X might cater to part of that market, but it will 9once again) be at the upper end and there's certainly room for a little variety.

· · 19 weeks ago

The problem for manufacturers is cost and margin. There's just no way to make a cheap EV that has good range at current battery prices. In a 70k-100k car, the cost of a big battery is a smaller percentage of cost of goods sold (COGS) and you can differentiate on value (i.e. performance, tech features, desirability) and still have a market. A big battery in a cheap car is just a non-starter until about 2020. Minivans and small format SUVs have notoriously bad aerodynamics and that just kills range at freeway speeds. The KIA Soul will help fill that gap, but it's going to be really hard to really make that car competitive with ICE. The percentage of the population that will accept 60-80 miles range, especially prior to viable QC infrastructure, is small. And that's before we even start talking about offsetting huge R&D costs for rolling out a new technology, not just for manufacture, but sales, parts and service as well. Oh yeah, and having to build out your own QC charge infrastructure.

All very tough tricks, which is why I give mega kudos to Carlos Ghosn, for "going for it" with the Leaf. Incredibly gutsy, visionary move. But it won't be profitable for a while and he has to survive that chasm or it could all be in vain.

· · 19 weeks ago

@BenNead's made a point a couple of times here that deserves a strong second - the low-utility configurations of many EVs, PHEVs in particular (much less jokers like this Saleen). Ironically, the few available BEVs often do better in this regard (except for the Focus-E and its Amazing Disappearing Trunk), probably because they don't have to haul around an engine and gas tank in addition to a battery pack.

But PHEVs, and even many hybrids, keep jamming batteries into all kinds of inconvenient places (trunks mostly), compromising passenger and/or cargo space. The Volt is the prime example, taking the mainstream five-passenger Cruze platform and hacking it down to the passenger + cargo space of a Yaris. Even otherwise successful designs, like Honda's impressive new Accord Hybrid (which turned out to be more Volt-like than any of us expected), just toss the batteries in the trunk and hope you'll travel light.

While I understand the CUV form factor has aerodynamic disadvantages, it also provides a lot more room to stow batteries less intrusively. The prime example (not yet available in the U.S., alas) is Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV. Sacrificing the small 3rd row seating area to rear drive motor, batteries, electronics, and a large level load floor, the O-PHEV looks to deliver (extrapolating from the more lenient Euro & Japanese mileage tests) the better part of the Volt's EV range and comparable MPG in a form factor that will comfortably transport four adults plus plenty of cargo. If Mitsubishi can do that, I don't see why GM hasn't already (i.e., BUILD THE VOLT MPV5), instead of restricting its Voltec drivetrain to a vehicle that's not very useful for the kind of trips it easily has the range to make (the exact reverse of the relatively commodious but range-limited LEAF, I would argue).

Tiny and/or weirdly shaped trunks are okay in little sports cars, but not family transportation. Cramped rear seating is tolerable for subcompacts, not $35k mainstream sedans. I won't believe automakers are serious about electrification until they deliver [PH/H/B]EVs in configurations that customers will find useful enough to buy.

· · 19 weeks ago

The car is very expensive. But recent evidence indicates that drivers are increasingly willing to pay the going rate to drive an electric car.

· · 13 weeks ago

I am surprised that a writer with Jim Motavalli's credentials would
publish this promotional article for Saleen.
If Jim had read all the other press clippings published in the last year he
would have noticed that Saleen has committed to the following projects :

1. Launch new Mustang
2. Launch new Camaro
3. Launch new Challenger
4. Launch new Supercar
5. Launch new Electric Vehicle
6. Launch new apparel and clothing lines
7. Expand the Corona Production Site

All this activity is not consistent with Saleen's
published 8K and 10K filings with the SEC
which indicates that:

Saleen is delinquent on it 's payroll taxes by more than $300K and
is late on it's notes payable to lenders .
Saleen's balance sheet indicates that it 's current debt is
12X it 's current assets. The inventory on hand is
not sufficient to produce enough vehicles to meet it 'a business plan.
How is Saleen going to launch all these new products?
Why is Saleen releasing all this press?
To sell cars or to sell stock?

· · 13 weeks ago

Also, Saleen's CFO resigned.

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