Innovation can prompt its share of ulcers. Just ask the managers and employees of the former Pivco AS in Norway, which in a six-week span went from elation to despair to hope in a project that could have long-term implications for plastics in the automotive industry.
The amazing twists in this saga of the maker of the developmental Th!nk electric car, which sports rotomolded high density polyethylene body panels, simply underscore the risks associated with thinking outside the box.
Such risks are only magnified, as Pivco painfully discovered, when the innovators involved must raise capital in today's volatile money markets.
Eight years of development efforts by the 45-employee Oslo company culminated Oct. 1 when it officially launched its two-seater Th!nk vehicle at the European Electric Vehicle Show in Brussels, Belgium. The firm announced its new rotomolding and assembly plant near Oslo was all but ready. It also said that in March it would launch small-scale commercial production, mostly for Norway's domestic market, while continuing to negotiate with interested potential manufacturing partners in China, Thailand and elsewhere.
The environmentally friendly car already was drawing rave reviews from northern California, where it had been in test trials by San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit district as a so-called ``station car'' that commuters could use to drive to and from public transportation stations.
Three weeks later the vehicle took ``pride of place'' on the K'98 trade-show stand of resin producer Borealis A/S, whose precolored, metallocene-catalyzed HDPE is used in six of the car's body panels — sparking much interest and discussion at world's biggest plastics expo.
Then, as it entered the stretch run, the project collapsed.
Perhaps spooked by the rough-and-tumble stock markets, some of the large Norwegian institutional investors who had supported the project financially pulled their support, plunging Pivco into bankruptcy Oct. 30. In the frantic two weeks that ensued, Pivco management scrambled to put together a rescue package before its fragile coalition of suppliers dispersed and reallocated their staff and resources.
On Friday the 13th, ironically, they succeeded — and a reconstituted Pivco Industries AS was born. So, with the company's assets now in the hands of a new coalition of investors that includes the firm's chairman, employees and management, and a Norwegian plastics processor, the Th!nk electric car is recharged, with a chance to ride again.
Who knows how successful the novel car will be, or what impact down the road its apparently successful application of rotomolding to make PE exterior auto panels may have?
But electric-car enthusiasts, environmentalists, the plastics industry and rotational molding proponents in particular, should heave a sigh of relief that this relatively obscure company did not die a quiet death in the November cold of Norway.
Pivco Industries may have much to teach other designers and automakers — if only its lessons can be received with an open mind.