Return of the TH!NK
By EV World
"America is ready for this," enthuses Vicki Northrup, Th!nk North America's new operations manager.
The car she is talking about is the long-labored Th!nk City (Model A306), a battery electric car that is now slated to be re-introduced in America after a six year hiatus. A fully-crash-tested, highway-capable two seater, the car is now ready for the times in which we live.
EV World first was introduced to its predecessor, then called the 'City Bee', when it was the centerpiece of an experimental 'station car' program in San Francisco. Even in its early incarnation -- with all its idiosyncrasies -- the people who got to drive it developed a fondness for it. While it was shuttling drivers efficiently between home and the BART station, its parent, PIVCO, was busy developing a follow-on vehicle that was considered a big improvement over the little Bee.
This new model, dubbed the A286, sported a number of innovations, the most obvious being its beer cooler-like rotocast thermoplastic body panels that were rust-proof and dent-resistant if not particularly attractive. Again, it was in San Francisco that it made its debut in 1998, but the company was in trouble and bankruptcy followed the following year.
Ford would buy into the company in late 1999, assuming majority control in 2000 and renaming it Th!nk. Eventually after spending an estimated $150 million dollars in re-engineering and restyling the car -- known internally as the A306 model -- as well as upgrading its manufacturing plant in Norway, Ford came within months of starting to sell the car in America. It even payed for a series of television commercials that aired nationally extolling the benefits of the car.
But it wasn't to be and in the summer of 2002, Ford announced it was going to sell the company and the dream of a Ford electric car that dated back to Henry Ford, himself, slipped into a comma Swiss-based Kamkorp would keep the company on life support for several more years, but eventually it too was forced to declare Th!nk bankrupt.
The problem wasn't the car or its sodium nickel chloride Zebra battery. It was the times. The market for a mid-priced electric car simply wasn't there in the view of carmakers and more importantly in the minds of most car buyers, especially in North America where gasoline prices have remained relatively cheap for the last century.
How th!ngs have changed. Even the President of the United States is now saying he wants to see city dwellers driving on electricity instead of gasoline.
Rising fuel prices, an unpopular war, concerns over national security and climate change are catalyzing public interest in a spectrum of electric drive vehicle options from conventional hybrids to plug-ins to electric cars. And one of the few electric cars ready to respond is Th!nk.
Recognizing that reality, the likes of General Electric, RockPort Capital Management and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers have invested in Th!nk; GE to the tune of $4 million. The latter two have teamed up to form Th!nk North America with Think Global in Norway; the purpose of which is to re-introduce the little two seater to U.S. car buyers. Think Global owns a 50% stake with RockPort and Kleiner Perkins each owning a 25% share. Th!nk NA's first employee is Vicki Northrup, who began her EV career with Bombardier about the time EV World was launching.
From Bombardier, she moved on to Ford as part of its Th!nk program, remaining there for three years, helping prepare for the 2002 launch, only to spend her last days helping shut down Th!nk after Ford sold it to Kamkorp. She would move on to ZENN for a brief time prior to being hired for the operations manager position at Th!nk North America.
In this audio interview conducted just a few days after the Th!nk North America announcement in Pasadena, California, Northrup discusses her role and the company's plans for bringing the car back and possibly even manufacturing it in America. She also discusses the company's plans for its follow-on four-door, five-passenger electric car dubbed the 'Ox'. She reveals, for the first time, why the company selected that seemingly odd moniker, which will surprise you.
You can listen to the complete 25-minute interview using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page. Or you can download it to your computer for transfer to your favorite MP3 device [http://www.evworld.com/evworld_audio/Vicki_northrup.mp3].
You'll quickly discover why Ms. Northrup is so excited about the new Th!nk and why she believes America is so ready for this car.