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DeLorean is back (to the future) with an electric car, and some caveats

The DeLorean Motor Company released images and specs of its forthcoming electric vehicle on its website this week.
DeLorean Motor Company
Screenshot by NPR
The DeLorean Motor Company released images and specs of its forthcoming electric vehicle on its website this week.

In 1985, the movie Back To The Future made a DMC DeLorean into both a time machine and a household name.

Almost four decades and several corporate iterations later, the latest carmaker to bear the DeLorean name is getting closer to launching its highly anticipated electric vehicle.

The DeLorean Motor Company revealed new images and details about the car, the Alpha5, to early-access subscribers on Monday, before its website went public the next day.

The concept car – which was first teased back in February – is set to premiere at the prestigious California car show Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in mid-August, with limited production set to begin in 2024.

"The Alpha5 is a representation of the past 40 years of DeLorean," Chief Marketing Officer Troy Beetz said in a statement. "There was this enormous responsibility to make sure we honored the history of the DeLorean brand, but an even greater responsibility in curating its future ... I think we did both with the Alpha5."

It's not the same company behind the original car

Despite its name, the DeLorean Motor Company behind the Alpha5 isn't the same one that brought the world the DMC DeLorean in 1981. That company produced only about 9,000 cars at its Northern Ireland factory and went bankrupt in 1982, before Back To The Future even arrived in theaters.

It had faced a series of high-profile financial and legal troubles, culminating in founder John DeLorean's involvement in an FBI sting operation that ended with him arrested on charges of conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine. He was acquitted of all charges in 1984, though he later went on trial for fraud and was forced to pay millions of dollars to creditors and lawyers in the ensuing decades.

Around that same time, a Liverpool-born mechanic named Stephen Wynne had moved to the U.S. and opened a repair shop focused on British and French automobiles. He began to focus exclusively on DeLoreans at a moment when no one else wanted to.

"Compared to what was around, it was an incredible-looking car," Wynne recalled to Popular Mechanics in 2019. "But ... there was no factory support and I was going to have to figure everything out. It was part business, part ego."

By the mid-1990s he had acquired the rights to the brand and inventory of the DeLorean Motor Company, of which he became the CEO. The current company is based near Houston in Humble, Texas, with additional locations in Florida, Illinois and California.

It's hinted at other cars over the years. For example, the company announced plans for an electric vehicle in 2011 and, in 2016, said it would reproduce hundreds of the original DeLorean following the passage of a federal transportation act allowing carmakers to build a small number of replicas.

Fast forward to 2022, when it announced plans for a reimagined, electric DeLorean.

Joost de Vries, the current CEO of DeLorean Motor Company, told Texas Public Radio in March that the new cars will be built in a yet-unconstructed building in San Antonio, with the company planning to hire up to 450 people over the next several years (though he told the British trade publication Autocarthat the new car will be built in Italy).

And while the Alpha5 is being advertised as a comeback, he stressed that the brand never really left.

"DeLorean lived on in online games like Forza and Need for Speed and Asphalt, Playmobile, Hot Wheels," he said. "The brand never left the market. A lot of the ideas that DeLorean worked with in the early 80s is actually something that we're developing further."

Stainless steel DeLoreans at Wilmington Marina Terminal, in Wilmington, Del., after arriving from Northern Ireland in 1981.
/ AP
Stainless steel DeLoreans at Wilmington Marina Terminal, in Wilmington, Del., after arriving from Northern Ireland in 1981.

It's a throwback to the future

The automobile maker has released some preliminary images and details about the Alpha5 ahead of its planned reveal in August.

The company partnered with Italdesign, the Volkswagen-owned design firm that helped develop the look of the original DeLorean, according to The Verge.

The result is a car that bears some resemblance to its predecessor, with gull-wing doors and a louvered rear window. But some things are new, like its four seats and a pair of big screens, one in front of the steering wheel and one attached to the center console.

The specifications for the base model include a range of more than 300 miles and a top speed of 155 miles per hour.

The company says the Alpha5 will be able to accelerate from zero to 60 in less than three seconds. And it can reach 88 miles per hour – the speed it needs to achieve in order to time travel, per movie lore – in 4.35 seconds.

Pricing is expected to be in the $175,000 range, the game and entertainment website IGN reports. It's a big leap forward from 1981, when MotorTrend says you could get an original DeLorean for about $25,000.

But don't expect to see DeLoreans flooding the streets just yet

De Vries told Texas Public Radio that production of the new vehicle will be limited, but that he expects to be "sold out within the whole production run within the year that we launch."

Citing de Vries, Autocar reported this week that the car will be sold in a limited run of 88, in a nod to the movie. Those will be suitable only for use on tracks and not for the road.

The next batch of vehicles will be built with the goal of legal use on roadways, it added.

The company is also setting its sights even further, with de Vries saying its roster will eventually expand to include a sports coupe, a sedan and a premium SUV.

But first is the matter of funding: Autocar said that DeLorean had completed its initial seed round of funding, and that the next one could possibly be tied to an I.P.O.

"We will be a public company," de Vries said. "We have to be. Building cars isn't cheap, and you need lots of money to make it happen."

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.