A Recharged TH!NK Contemplates its Comeback Autopia Wired com

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Th!nk City

A Recharged TH!NK Contemplates its Comeback

I like electric cars, and you should, too. Electric is, frankly, where it s at. Amid the flurry of automakers ain t-we-green hydrogen fuel-cell experimentation, a few small companies have quietly (and we do mean quietly ) unplugged some very convincing 100-percent-electric vehicles.

Why is plug-in electric such a compelling alternative? The key factor is infrastructure . Establishing a network of hydrogen refueling stations is a lofty and distant goal, to say the least, and it ll be awfully hard to keep your FCX or HydroGen on the road without one. But electric cars don t have that problem. Everybody s got a spare outlet, right?

No, I won t be the first to note that battery technology isn t yet what it should be, but it s hard to deny that progress is being made. The EV-1 used twenty-six heavy lead-acid batteries and had a maximum range of 90 miles. The Tesla Roadster has a trunk-sized pack comprised of some 6800 laptop-style lithium-ion batteries and has a range of 200 miles.

Yes, there s work to be done, but it s happening.

Ford s debut of the TH!NK brand seemed awfully cunning to me back in 2000. Whereas General Motors had sunk untold millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of engineer-hours into the EV1 project, only to kill it outright a few years later, Ford simply did what Ford did best in those days: It consumed a smaller company that had already done the dirty work—in this case, the Norwegian firm PIVCO, whose plastic-bodied, two-seat electric hatchback was already darting around Norwegian streets. When then-Ford President and CEO Jacques Nasser introduced TH!NK at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show, the brand featured a handful of vehicles, not all of them exactly stellar prospects, at least from a car-enthusiast s standpoint. Now, don t get me wrong: I vividly recall having a ball zapping around Ford s Dearborn, Michigan, compound on an battery powered TH!NK Bike Fun . and I strongly suspect that if I lived in a 55+ community in Arizona, I d have been a huge fan of the doorless, four-seat TH!NK Neighbor . But the star of the show was a diminutive two-seat runabout, formerly called the CityBee but re-dubbed the TH!NK City . Fast, it wasn t (top speed: 56 mph with the wind at your back); and long-legged, it definitely wasn t (range: 53 miles on a good day).

An EV1 would ve smoked it completely in every way—every way but one, that is: Availability. According to Ford s plan, any Average Joe or Jane would be able to walk into his or her local Ford dealership and hum away in a City. GM, on the other hand, had instituted an impenetrable, company managed lease plan that allowed it to maintain complete control over who got an EV1, where they drove it, and for how long.

Well, the short of it is that Ford got cold feet for electric vehicles before this grand plan was realized. The company nixed TH!NK in 2004 (promptly confiscating the few City cars that had made it to American roads). The official word was that Ford has decided forego of electric-vehicle investment to concentrate on fuel-cell technology.

In other words, TH!NK for America was thunk.

Th!nk City

Well, Ford s dissing wasn t the end of the road for TH!NK, after all. Post-Ford, the has staged a pretty remarkable bounce-back. Purchased in 2006 by a consortium of Norwegian investors headed by the charismatic Jan Olaf Willums (pictured below), the little EV company that could revamped its City car (pictured above), improving its performance (top speed was now 62 mph) and cruising range (now 112 miles).

The company cut a deal with Tesla Motors, makers of the 130-mph Tesla Roadster, to buy lithium-ion batteries for the City, and the reinvented two-seater itself caught the interest of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as Mr. Segway himself, Dean Kamen. And now, it seems, TH!NK is poised for a major comeback in America, possibly as early as next year.

So while Ford and GM are playing around with the most common element in the universe, TH!NK has begun its Act II.

We ll keep you posted.

Read more on the reborn TH!NK City here. and catch up on the TH!NK/Google talks here .

Photos courtesy of TH!NK (above) and Google (below).

Th!nk City
Th!nk City
Th!nk City
Th!nk City
Th!nk City

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