January 28, 2010

THINK Poised To Enter U.S. Automobile Market

The Norwegian electric carmaker THINK is set to enter the U.S. market with a new assembly facility -- thanks to a new quick charging system, AFP reported.

The company is set to begin operations later this year.

A growing number of small and large companies are looking to cash in on what is expected to be a growing market for electric vehicles, including the maker of quirky plug-in electric minicars, which has been operating in Europe for 19 years.

The company expects to begin work this year at an assembly facility in Elkhart, Indiana, and begin production in early 2011, with the goal of producing as many as 20,000 vehicles a year, according to THINK chief executive Richard Canny.

"The tiny startup is able to compete against some of the automotive giants in the marketplace. Unlike the market for conventional cars, the playing field is more level in the electric vehicle market," said Canny, an Australian who spent 25 years with Ford Motor Co. in various locations.

Canny told AFP that THINK has 19 years of experience building cars that start even during the frigid Scandinavian winters.

He is confident that the speed of a small company like theirs will offset the scale of the large companies.

Canny said U.S. sales will begin later in 2010 from cars produced at a facility in Finland. Initial sales are likely to be to company or government fleets, although he noted that some direct sales to consumers may take place as well.

A large stake of the company is being held by EnerDel, an Indiana manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries that will be the supplier for THINK cars in the U.S., but the privately held group is backed by investors from the U.S. and elsewhere.

An announcement Tuesday by a developer of vehicle charging systems claims to provide an 80 percent charge in 15 minutes, at a price of just two to three dollars.

The California-based AeroVironment, Inc. will work with THINK on the new charging stations that will be installed in major cities. The fast-charge system employs a protocol developed by Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Canny called it a "major leap forward for electric vehicles" and said the development and deployment of very-fast-charge stations will help speed the electrification of automobiles in the United States and globally.

THINK has sold about 1,600 vehicles in Europe, but only a few hundred are the new generation THINK City, which has a top speed of more than 70 miles per hour and a range of more than 100 miles per full charge.

The car is likely to be sold at under 30,000 dollars, and that volume may eventually bring prices down to the "low 20,000 dollar" range, according to Canny.

But even though the price is higher than many conventional cars, it is offset by the fact that it is virtually maintenance-free and has operating costs of about two cents per mile.

Canny said the company is not yet profitable but "we are moving toward profitability."


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