The complex life of the plastic-bodied Think electric car is about to take another turn.
Norway's Think Global says it will begin making its Think City in the United States starting sometime in 2010, with plans to eventually make up to 60,000 cars per year in the U.S.
The U.S. is quickly overtaking Europe as an attractive market for [electric vehicles] and is an ideal location to engineer and build EVs, said Think Chief Executive Officer Richard Canny in a March 12 news release. We see ourselves playing a small but potentially growing role in reinventing the U.S. auto industry by bringing back new manufacturing jobs to the U.S. to replace internal combustion engine vehicles.
Think is looking at potential plant sites in eight states, including Michigan. It currently makes cars at a plant in Aurskog, Norway, with a capacity of 16,000 vehicles per year. Initially, it expects to employ 300 making 16,000 cars per year at its future U.S. plant, with the possibility to expand to 900 jobs and 60,000 vehicles.
The Think City will have thermoplastic body panels and a fully recyclable interior, the company said. Investors plan to take advantage of low-interest loans through the federal government to help develop production capabilities for fuel-efficient vehicles.
Electric vehicles do have potential, but it is hard to say exactly how well Think will do, said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrains with consulting group J.D. Power & Associates, based in Troy, Mich.
You have to be cautious when it comes to their [sales] projections, he said. They'll face competition from all of the major manufacturers.
Top automakers including General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. have announced plans to sell an electric passenger vehicle within the next few years, he said. The Tesla Roadster sports car is already on sale. There could be good potential in North America if Think finds the right niche, however, especially if gas prices hit $4 a gallon again.
If the Think comes to the U.S., it will mark its second shot at the North American market.
Pivco Industries AS, the original developer of the car with its rotomolded plastic body panels ran out of development cash in 1999. Then Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. swooped in and picked up the car to create an electric vehicle line that would meet California emission standards. Ford named its version Think Mobility LLC and showed it off at the 2000 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Ford set up test fleets in a few U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Atlanta and New York.
But when regulations in California changed, Ford abandoned the redesigned Think in 2003 and planned to shut both the firm and the plant in Norway.
That's when private financiers stepped in, and launched the redeveloped car. The company has gone through two sets of owners since Ford. Now Think Global is owned by a mixture of financial firms, venture capital funds and green energy backers. Think North America is a wholly owned subsidiary of Think Global.
The company is selling its two-seater Think City, which has a range of 110 miles and maximum speed of 65 miles per hour, in Norway now, and has a larger concept car, the Think Ox.
One Think Global investor is New York's Ener1 Group Inc., which paid $5.7 million for a controlling stake. Ener1's other holdings include lithium-ion battery maker Ener1 Inc., which has a deal to supply batteries for the Think City.
Bringing Think production to the U.S. will help push lithium-ion technology, said Charles Gassenheimer, Ener1 CEO.
We're seeing a whole new system of suppliers and producers taking shape in this country to create a new high-tech manufacturing base, he said.