Ford Motor Co. has called a halt to its electric car program, leaving the Norwegian plant that produces the rotational molded Think City car at a crossroads.
The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker decided to shift its technology focus away from electric drive and into hybrids and fuel cells. The Aug. 30 announcement came a few months after Ford had revealed a second generation of the Think City and launched a pilot lease program in the United States.
``There is a limited customer demand for current battery electric vehicles,'' Richard Parry-Jones, Ford vice president for global product development and chief technical officer, said in a written statement.
Ford said it would discontinue production of the golf-cart-style Think Neighbor, made in Detroit, by the end of 2002. Think Nordic, the Aurskog, Norway, division that made the two-seat City car has ``entered into a consultation period,'' the company stated.
Workers and stakeholders in Norway must determine the future of the plant and its products, Ford executives said. The plant had a capacity of up to 5,000 vehicles annually, but Ford only sold about 1,000 over the City's two-year life.
Norway's Pivco Industries AS created the Think with a six-piece polyethylene body and ABS roof in the 1990s, but ran out of cash before it could bring it to the market. Ford stepped in in 1999, buying a majority stake in Pivco and re-christening the company Think Mobility LLC. Sales launched in Europe later that same year.
Ford showed off the next generation of the City in January at the Los Angeles auto show, which it said was designed more toward U.S. driver expectations. Ford planned a mainstream U.S. launch by the end of this year. To prepare the market, Ford launched a pilot lease program in selected locations to introduce the vehicle to American drivers.
In New York the Think unit teamed up with the New York Power Authority and commuter railroads, offering drivers up to a 36-month lease along with a parking place at specific rail stations complete with a power connection to charge up the City car.
Just two days before Ford's announcement the power authority noted demand for the program had prompted organizers to open additional parking spots at some stops, with commuters claiming 95 of the 100 vehicles made available for the ``Clean Commute'' program.
The power authority and Think drivers still have not received a definitive answer from Ford on what will happen to their vehicles and the program, said NYPA spokesman Brian Warner.
``The people who have them like them, recognizing that it is a niche car for a niche purpose,'' Warner said.