The Electric Car Lives Businessweek

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The Electric Car Lives

Clean, and relatively profitable to produce, vehicles have had a rough in the U.S. Five years General Motors (GM) its innovative EV1 electric car program, a handful of automakers have to making and selling electric on a mass scale any time

Enter Think Global, a upstart plotting a U.S. via pint-size, affordable electric Think has been selling Lilliputian city cars in and will start peddling to fuel-crunched Americans in 2009. The newly formed North division has high hopes for existing models—and even ones for the upcoming Th!nk Ox, a unveiled at the Geneva International Show earlier this

An electrified people’s car for the 21st the Ox is a preview of Think’s next-generation vehicle, due out in 2011. Roughly the of a Toyota (TM) Prius, the Ox can between 125 and 155 miles before a recharge, and zips from to 60 miles per hour in about 8.5 Its lithium-ion batteries can be charged to 80% in less than an hour, and solar panels integrated the roof power the onboard

Inside, the hatchback includes a of high-tech gizmos such as GPS a mobile Internet connection, and a key fob lets drivers customize the all-digital dashboard. Pricing has yet to be but the company’s current vehicles less than $25,000.

little-known, Think North is backed by an undisclosed amount Silicon Valley venture firms RockPort Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield which famously invested in companies such as Amazon.com and Google (GOOG). General (GE) made an unrelated $4 investment in March to support the battery research and development

Distinguished Design

Even than its well-funded sponsors or technology, the Ox’s killer app be its design. To date, most cars available in the U.S.—small, and underpowered—have been intended for the earliest early adopters and the faithful green believers. In Think’s senior vice-president for Katinka von der Lippe, says the Ox is a car, a big step away the cuteness of [other] electric


All that distinguishes the Ox from fuel-sipping compact cars, in is its silent hum and zero emissions.

The Ox embodies the characteristic simplicity of design, featuring uncomplicated and clean, uncluttered surfaces. A of unpainted metal stretches the front of the vehicle to its rear, the Ox’s interior architecture, an frame. An unassuming grille is between sophisticated sloping

The Ox is a leap forward for the design of cars, says von der Lippe, we think, the product of a mature

Still, the American market for vehicles is virtually nonexistent, John O’Dell, a senior specializing in green vehicles for site Edmunds.com. Even gas-electric hybrids such as the and Honda’s (HMC) Civic for barely 3% of U.S. auto Until you’ve got a compelling you won’t have a market, O’Dell.

Aside from the sleek Motors Roadster, which a price tag of nearly $100,000, are almost no fully functional vehicles that meet drivers’ requirements. The Ox could that gap.

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It’ll a lot of time, Wilber James, managing general partner and president of Think North says of the challenge of selling vehicles to American drivers, who overwhelmingly prefer trucks to small cars. We’re to focus at first on niche universities, and fleets.

Innovative

The company’s business model, James, is similar to that of PC Dell (DELL), which its rise by ruthlessly optimizing its and supply chain. Think’s manufacturing system lets it production facilities for about $10 compared with the billions in new plants by old-line manufacturers. means more factories to customers, further cutting

In addition, factories could be the retailers, says James, would add a unique element to branding. The company, he says, be profitable if it can sell 10,000 a year. At 20,000 to 30,000 in annual sales, Think can cut its costs in half.

That on innovative manufacturing, in addition to the Ox itself, may ultimately set the company from previous attempts—and, is betting, finally help the U.S. market for electric

For a look at an alternative approach to vehicles aimed at commercial fleet-cars, see Duracar Delivers Eco-Trucking (BusinessWeek.com, 6/16/08).

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