My Think City on the snowy roads of Turku, Finland. (Credit: Jim Motavalli)
The EVs headed for the U.S. market by the end of the year are a diverse lot. The battery-powered Coda, for instance, is based on a Chinese car, but was re-engineered by Porsche in Germany, uses a lot of components from suppliers all over the world, and will be built in California. The Nissan Leaf is Japanese, but will be built in Tennessee. The Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid? Well, the owner is Danish, the company is based in California (and Delaware), and the car will be built in Finland.
And Finland is exactly where I happen to be right now, over here to drive another car built in the same plant, Valmet Automotive, that will house the Karma. But the Think City, soon to be on American streets, is of more modest ambitions. The high-performance Karma is a spiritual cousin to the Porsche Caymans and Boxsters also built by Valmet. It was great fun seeing the Boxsters being built, though Valmet wouldn't let us photograph the assembly line.
The Think City is a two-seat city car with a 100-mile range and a body made of recyclable plastic that resembles old-time thermos bottles (down to the built-in colors; no paint shop here). It looks earth-friendly, and it is, with two-cent-per-mile operating costs and no climate emissions. Right now it's Europe only: Made in Finland, with sales in Norway (where Think is based), Holland, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. All those countries make concessions to get EVs on the road, and so will France, Switzerland and Belgium (where the City is headed).
But if this was just a European car I probably wouldn't be writing about it. Cars made in Finland will be sold in the U.S. by the end of 2010, and a U.S. factory (in Elkhart, Indiana) is scheduled to open in early 2011. Eventually, Think will have the capacity to build 6,000 cars in Finland and another 13,000 in the U.S. Those aren't world-killing numbers, but Think will start small and ramp up. The car will initially sell for approximately $37,000 in the U.S. but incentives, including a $7,500 federal income tax credit, will bring it down. Some states, especially California (which offers a $5,000 rebate), Oklahoma and Colorado, have made owning an EV a competitive option.
The Finnish factory tour, which we took in the kind of little open electric train you see at amusement parks, was great fun. We cruised past a line of embryonic Porsches that were literally being hand built. The Think production was similarly low-tech, including 14 stations where careful assembly with small power tools was the norm. Testing is rigorous: The City has even been immersed in a salt bath, so Think could know it doesn't short out under such circumstances.
And driving the car on snowy streets was also a treat. The few bugs I'd noticed on earlier cars, including heavy steering, have been addressed. It was a fine cruiser on Turku's E18 motorway, with only a slightly annoying whine to distract. The City is not a luxury car, but it's a fun-to-drive runabout that will meet most urban commuter's needs.
The City needs a gimmick to separate itself from the pack. Here's an idea: Think should make a deal with its fellow Scandinavian company, Ikea. With a few new panels the Think City would become a delivery truck for green-minded Ikea. What's more, Ikea could sell them in the warehouses, as Best Buy sells Brammo electric motorcycles. There's a marketing concept for you!
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