Norwegian carmaker Think is getting ready to begin making its City electric car in the U.S. next year, and is looking for local suppliers that will be ready to begin production of key parts, including exterior plastic body panels.
Our initial production in the U.S., if everything goes according to plan, will be in the first quarter of next year and we hope to be sourcing the body panels in the U.S. for that initial production, said Keith Takasawa, product development director for Think North America.
Oslo-based Think is now building cars for the European market from a plant in Finland. With $47 million worth of new backing from a range of investors including New York-based Ener1 Inc., the firm is ready to expand with a fully tested electric car for the U.S. market.
The $24.7 million operation is going into an Elkhart, Ind., facility that, until recently, was making doors and windows for recreational vehicles. Ener1's lithium-ion battery making unit, EnerDel, will supply batteries for Think from Indianapolis.
With those two parts of the production puzzle already in place, Think now is lining up other suppliers. The firm likely will tap into the Elkhart region's plastics expertise in a variety of molding techniques first developed for the recreational vehicle industry, Takasawa said in a Jan. 12 interview at the North American International Auto Show, where the Think City was part of a demonstration fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles.
The City's two-seat, all-electric car uses plastics extensively to reduce weight and improve performance. Its exterior is pressure formed coextruded acrylic styrene acrylonitrile/ABS. The interior is mostly polypropylene, relying heavily on expanded PP foam. Some of the EPP is wrapped in a polypropylene textile; some is intentionally left exposed.
Think's low-volume production with yearly capacity of 20,000 vehicles at the new Elkhart plant lends itself to non-traditional molding compared to elsewhere in the industry where injection molding is king, Takasawa said.
The RV industry knows how to handle a lot of different plastics at relatively low volumes, he said. They don't need 100,000 or 200,000 units a year to be profitable. Between a workforce that already knows how to build RVs and the supply base, we think this will be a good situation for us.
Takasawa said that after years of struggle, Think is in a good position for a global audience ready to take a serious look at electric vehicles. The firm has been making cars since the late 1990s, first under original owner Pivco Industries AS, then under a series of owners that included Ford Motor Co.
Think has feedback from more than 300 million miles of real-world driving from its customers. Its electric engine can take the car 100 miles on a charge and the U.S. version will have a top speed more than 70 miles per hour. It already meets strict crash and performance regulations in Europe.
We know how to design and build electric cars, Takasawa said. The other guys are just getting into it and don't have the experience that we do.
The other advantage is that it's a [designed from the] ground up electric vehicle. It's not a derivative of a gas vehicle. We haven't had to make the design changes that others may have had to make because they're starting with a gas engine.
Think designers also are considering the company's next generation of cars, and they have been talking to resin suppliers and molders about new ways to make the body panels, he said.
The future will depend on how well consumers take to the electric vehicle market, but Takasawa said he thinks the public is ready.
The conditions are right. The government's been very much behind it. And after gas hit $4 a gallon, that really changed people's minds about what they will be purchasing. This may well be it, and I think we're well-positioned to take advantage of it, he said.
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