Electric car for the masses to be made in Southern California
By By Ken Bensinger
|Los Angeles Times Staff Writer|
Apr 22, 2008 | 12:00 AM
Norwegian automaker Think Global said Monday it planned to sell low-priced electric cars to the masses and will introduce its first models in the U.S. by the end of next year.
The battery-powered Think City will be able to travel up to 110 miles on a single charge, with a top speed of about 65 mph, the company said. It will be priced below $25,000.
Oslo-based Think said venture capital firms RockPort Capital Partners and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers had made investments to fund its entry into the U.S. under the auspices of Think North America.
"This is not a toy," said Wilber James, RockPort managing partner. "This is a serious car that we expect to sell."
Think North America is likely to be based in Southern California, the investors said, and the cars it sells here will be assembled locally. The venture investors will own half of Think North America. In March, General Electric Co. invested $4 million in Think Global.
Although technology for electric cars has been advancing -- and consumer interest has been rising amid growing concern over gasoline prices and greenhouse gases -- few vehicles have come to market. Last month, San Carlos, Calif.-based Tesla Motors began production of its Roadster, an electric vehicle that costs $100,000.
The Think City "is a mass-market vehicle," said Kleiner managing partner Ray Lane, dismissing comparisons to the Roadster. Tesla's car is being produced in relatively small numbers, with roughly 300 expected by the end of this year. "Our desire is to be selling 30-40-50,000 of these cars in a couple of years."
Think Chief Executive Jan-Olaf Willums said the company would bring test vehicles to the U.S. in the coming months.
The Think City runs on sodium batteries, but future versions could use lithium ion batteries, Willums said. The company is working with A123 Systems and EnerDel Inc., to develop the batteries, which would boost range and speed.
With most automakers focusing on hybrid technology, only a handful, including Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motor Co., have announced plans to produce all-electric cars. Mitsubishi's MiEV is set to go on sale in Japan next year.
Ford Motor Co. was the longtime owner of Think but sold it in 2003. It was purchased by Norweigan investors two years ago, and began selling cars in Norway this year, with sales in Sweden, Denmark and Britain expected this year. The company said its annual production capacity in Europe is 10,000 vehicles.
The Think City, a two-seater that can be fitted with two additional seats for children, has a mostly plastic exterior and is 95% recyclable. Willums said a convertible was in development. "Women want to buy it immediately," he said.