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Th!nk City

Test drive Th!nk

The importer of the Th!nk. Elmonet. was kind enough to allow me to test drive a Th!nk. The Th!nk is an electric two-seater with a maximum range of 180 km. Want to know what I thought of it? Read on!

The Th!nks design (which is actually called Th!nk City, but because there s only one model Th!nk everyone just calls it simply Th!nk) hails from the early 90s. Ford took an interest in 1999 and invested in the company. Unfortunately, they lost interest after only 5 years and sold all their stock in 2004.

The company struggled to survive after that, but since a few years new investors took an interest and also the demand for electric cars is increasing, which helped Th!nk grow. According to Th!nk their production line in Aurskog (Norway) produces 5000 vehicles per year, which is the highest volume production of electric cars that I know of. Mitsubishi is now series-producing the i-MiEV, which I test drove two months ago, and although they say they intend to produce 30.000 cars per year I ll believe it when I see it.

Apart from that, the the Th!nk can actually be bought in the Netherlands today, while the i-MiEV will only be available in the Netherlands in lagre number by the end of 2010 according to Mitsubishi.

Koplamp van de Th!nk

The Th!nk has an aluminium and steel frame which is covered by ABS plastic panels. This panels can be replaced easily. Because the panels are coloured all the way through small scratches and dents hardly show up and do not rust. Looking under the small bonnet/hood shows that electric cars are technically much simpler than fossil cars.

The 20kW electric motor lies between the front wheels next to a normal 12V battery for things like lights and radio, there s the controller box with all the electronics handling the charging and driving and a cooling system for the motor and the controller box. There is lots of space left.

The Th!nk comes equipped with a Zebra battery which can store 28kWh of electrical energy. This type of battery has an electrolyte of molten salt. which is kept at at a temperature of 250 ° C.The battery is mounted inside a large thermos bottle so that this heat only leaks out very slowly. Even without external heat the batteries remain hot for several days, and heat that is lost can be replenished by the charching process.

According to the standard test cycle the Th!nk should have a range of 180 km on this battery. Because the test cycle is slightly optimistic I think that in practice a range of some 150 km should be considered realistic. This still depends on several factors such as weather (and with that, the use of the 4kWh electric heater), driving style, tyre pressure, vehicle load, etc.

By choosing the the name Th!nk the company obviously wanted to imply that this is a smart car, and then not just smart in the area of energy use and CO2-emissions. The Th!nk can be equipped with a so-called Mind Box, an electronic box with several functions. The charge state of the battery can be retrieved from a mobile phone, and also, after pressing the Assist button on the dashboard, the box can send all kinds of technical and diagnostic data about the car to the manufacturer. If, after an accident, the airbags deploy the Mind Box can alert the emergency services.

Because the box has both a GPS and an internet connection I expect it to be useful as milage registration system and maybe even as a vehicle tracking system.


Safety got a lot of attention in the Th!nk, it features dual airbags, seat belt pretensioners, steel beams around the door frame and an intelligently designed frame which dissipates crash-energy away from the occupants. Although the indepenent organisation Euro NCAP has not crash tested the Th!nk (yet), crash tests and computer simulations indicate that the Th!nk should get about three stars. This is comparable to compact fossil cars like the Suzuki Alto.

Because of its deformable plastic exterior the Th!nk maybe relatively friendly to pedestrians in a collision, although this might be negated by a considerable degree by its fairly high curb weight of nearly 1050 kg.

In a fossil car the excess heat from the internal combustion engine is used to heat the interior. Because an internal combustion engine is very inefficient there is always enough heat available for that task. In electric cars things are very different; because an electric motor is very efficient there is hardly any excess heat available.

That s why the Th!nk is equipped with a 4kW electric heater.

De achterkant van de Th!nk

The appearance of cars an issue of  great discussion. It seems to me that there s no part of a car that s so thoroughly discussed as its looks, sometimes in nearly poetic terms like Demure, unwavering and elegant lines with few stylistic frills . Road handling, underlying technology, price, handy internal arrangement are all things that car magazines talk about but the exterior (and thus, its image) seems to have the greatest say in the final score.

I, for one, have never really been bothered with how a car looks. Ik mainly see a car as an article of use which should take me from A to B as safely, efficiently and cheaply as possible. I don t own a car now, but when I did I owned successively a Suzuki Alto, an Opel Kadett and Opel Astra, all of them not the most exciting cars.

I don t quite understand the fascination for the looks of cars, as you are inside it for nearly all the time you are using it! It has probably something to do with the fact that cars are status symbols par excellence, objects with which people present themselves to the outside world, which is a behaviour the car-marketing focusses on.

The exterior of the Th!nk seems to split the world: people either think it s cute or ugly. It s quite different from the average familiy car most Dutch people drive. Firstly, the outside material is made of somewhat rough plastic, which doesn t shine.

In a world where shiny metal is the norm this seems to put people off. Secondly, the Th!nk is undeniably a small car; with its length of 312 cm its 40 cm shorter than a Suzuki Alto, although it s 10 cm wider. These differences make its proportions different from the current generation of fossil cars.

Despite the car marketing-machine trying to sell each new model car as unique it seems that both the car press and the average car buyer hardly ever appreciate really unique designs.

Despite my lack of interest in the looks of a car I really don t consider the Th!nk ugly. With its large, open headlights I think it has a cheerful nose. The front looks to me a bit like the VW New Beetle.

The back is not that different from some other cars currently on the road. It has a large glass hatchback, going all the way down to the bumper, that s the only slightly unusual design feature. The only angle from which the Th!nk looks decidedly different is from the side, from there it s obvious its quite short compared to its other dimensions. That will strike certain people as weird .

I can t discover anything wrong with it.

Dashboard van de Th!nk

Although I don t care about how the outside of a car looks I do think it s nice if the inside looks and feels nice. That s where you spend nearly all the time you are using the car. One of the thing Ford seems to have contributed to the Th!nks design is the dashboard. This will undoubtedly account for the fact that it looks like any dashboard in any car. Together with the conventional layout it makes the Th!nk very easy to operate.

Everyone who has driven a fossil car with an automatic tranmission should be able to get into a Th!nk and drive it without any problems at all. The horizontal part of the dashboard, just below the windshield, is covered in some kind of fabric, that s a bit unusual. It feels nice to the touch and it makes the Th!nk pettable .

An employee of Elmonet (located in Eelde) was kind enough to take the time to drive the Th!nk to the train station of Groningen so that I didn t have to take a bus all the way to Eelde. After introductions were made I could drive the Th!nk immediately. A very brief introduction was enough to be able to drive the Th!nk. After turning the ignition key the dashboard comes alive. Behind the steering wheel there are three large dials which show, from left to right, the battery charge level, de current speed and current energy consumption.

The latter shows how much electricity the Th!nk is using at any given time, and can even indicate a negative energy flow if the accelerator is released or the brake pedal is pressed lightly. The electric motor is then used as a generator and it converts the kinetic energy from the car into electricity with which the battery is charged.

The centre console displays a clear indicator of the chosen gear (which, in this car, is a bit of a misnomer as the car is an automatic with only one fixed gear), and just like in the i-MiEV the driver can choose between D (Drive) and E (Eco). In E-mode the acceleration is a little less brisk and regenerative braking is more aggressive. All normal controls for lighting, ventilation, heating etc. als very conventional and therefore very easy to operate.

Partly because the car is a two-seater there is ample internal space for driver and passenger. I m quite tall (1m88) and there was more than enough leg- and headroom. I can t remember specifically how the driver s seat felt and that probably means it was fine. Optionally you can have two small extra seats installed in the cargo space. This enables the Th!nk owner to transport one or two children up to the age of about 10.

Because the battery is under the floor at the rear of the car there s not enough legroom for fullsize seats, and also the vehicle is too short for that. This makes the Th!nk an option for families with children, although installing the seats will reduce the cargo space, which is relatively roomy, to almost nothing.

De Th!nk

I drove quite conservatively the first few kilometers because I didn t know the car, but that didn t last long. The Th!nk is very easy to drive and soon I became more secure. At first we drove through the city of Groningen, followed by about 10 km over the motorway to Eelde. The return trip consisted of a mix of 50km roads, 80km roads and motorways to give me the oppertunity to test the car at all speeds. The Th!nk is at its best in the city.

Acceleration up to 50 km/h is very quick, I did not time it but I m pretty sure you d leave any unsuspecting fossil car behind you at the traffic lights. This allows the car to easily keep up with the rest of traffic the question is: can they keep up with the Th!nk? This model had no power steering, so at low speeds steering was a bit heavier than I expected but once the speed is above 20..30 km/h it s really not noticable anymore.

On 80km roads the Th!nk handles pretty well. Acceleration to 80 km/h takes 16 seconds, according to the specifications, and with that you re absolutely no moving road block.  Even on the motorway driving the Th!nk was absolutely not unpleasant.

It takes a while before you ve reached the top speed of 115 km/h but it s certainly not dangerous.

The Th!nk is pleasantly quiet at all speeds. At higher speeds there is a very slight whine from the motor (or more likely: the transmission), but the Elmonet-employee told me that in this two year old Th!nk the motor compartment is not as well insulated as in the newest models. Although I did not consciously hear it, the vacuum servo is mounted on damping rubbers in new Th!nks so that it should not be audible at all.

Tyre- and windnoise is audible, especially at higher speeds but it s certainly not more or less than in other cars. It may be a bit more noticable because there s hardly any motor noise.

All in all I have to say dring the Th!nk is a pleasant experience. It s quiet, easy to operate and lively enough to make dring it fun. Just like with the i-MiEV I was struck by how normal the driving experience is and I m still convinced that s a very smart move.

When it comes to cars most people are very conservative, and electric cars are already weird enough so that a novel way of operating it could put buyers off.

Compared to the i-MiEV

In the previous text I already compared some aspects of the Th!nk with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (see the article on that test drive), because the cars are comparable in many ways. Also, it has only been two months since I ve driven the i-MiEV so the experience is still fresh in my mind. Acceleration, cornering, ease of operation, normalness , inner space (on the front seats at least), range and price are all very close between the two cars.

There some obvious differences: outside finish (metal/shiny vs. plastic/rough), 2+2 seater vs. 4-seater, on the market now vs. possibly available by the end of 2010, well-established brand vs. newcomer. One difference in driving was the Eco-mode.

Th!nk City

In the i-MiEV the Eco-mode made itself felt by a much less lively acceleration and also a much more pronounced motorbreaking. In the Th!nk I only felt a somewhat stronger motorbreaking, hardly any difference in acceleration.

Especially the differing number of seats will probably see both cars serve different markets, but once the i-MiEV is on the market they ll no doubt be competitors as well.

In its standard configuration the Th!nk is listed for € 38585, which is quite a stiff price for a car of this size. When want the car filled with all possible options it s possible to raise the price to € 43391, and that s a price not many will be able to afford. The price is caused by (among other things) the small numbers in which the car is produced, 5000 units per year is really not a lot.

There s also still quite some handwork involved in the production of the Th!nk, which is expensive. You re also paying for the newness of the product; mobile phones were very expensive when they first appeared on the market twenty years ago, now nearly every one can afford one.

The high list price does not say it all; the running costs should be very low. Electric cars are relatively simple machines and have very few parts that can wear out. It s fuel is very cheap; at a price of € 0,25 per kWh I calculate a price of € 4,- per 100 km.

A fuel-efficient fossil car (5 l per 100 km) would cost about € 7,50 per 100 km (at € 1,45 per l of petrol). In the Netherlands, if one would lease the Th!nk (or any other full-electric car) only 10% of the list price would be added to ones year salary for tax purposes (compared to 22% for a normal fossil car). The Th!nk, as a full-electric car, is also exempted from road tax.

Even insurance can be cheap, it is possible to get an all-risk indurance for just € 700 per year.

Even with all these benefits the Th!nk will not able to compete on price alone with a small fossil car like a Suzuki Alto. But of course, with a Th!nk you don t just buy a car, you an electric car. By doing that you show that you think further ahead than other people, that you care about things like Peak Oil and climate change. And don t forget that driving the lively and quiet Th!nk is simply fun!

Not all people love the internal combustion engine with all its associated nastyness. I hope that many people and companies will invest in cars like the Th!nk (and the i-MiEV, and all the other electric cars which are on their way to the market) so that they ll become affordable for the larger public soon.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of handling and other qualities of the Th!nk. I had read about the car before the test drive and especially the conventional car press isnot always positive about this car. I read that some don t like the finish on the inside of the car, but it looked to me there was nothing wrong with it and the Th!nk I drove was two years old.

As always when I test drive a non-conventional vehicle, I ask myself: would I buy one?

The answer is, no, not at this time. First and foremost: Fortunately I don t need a car. I can easliy get arouind by bicycle and public transport so I don t need a private car.

If I need to go somewhere where I can t easily go by bicycle or public transport I borrow a car, bu that really doesn t happen a lot.

Secondly, the price, obviously. If I really needed a car I would certainly consider such a car. The range is adequate for the type of driving I would do, and because the place I live (Hilversum) is situated very centrally in the Netherlands I could reach a large part of the country.

But I simply don t have € 38500 available for a car, even if the lower running costs mean the total costs per km might be lower.

If, in the future, I ever think I would need a car, and if the price has come down then the Th!nk or a comparable car might certainly be an option. The funny thing is that we have a 200 kWh yearly surplus from our solar panels. On this surplus the Th!nk would be able to travel about 1300 km for free .

If we would like to travel about 13000 km per year would roughly have to be doubled in size, which is less of an extension than I would have expected.

In the Netherlands, the Th!nk is imported by Elmonet:

Burg. J.G. Legroweg 64A

9761 TD Eelde (right accross the road from airport Groningen)

T: 050-3048040

F: 050-3048049

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