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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Revenge of the Norwegians

Air Date: Week of

The Th!nk City car may be built in the US (Courtesy of Th!nk Global)

A Norwegian car company wants to manufacture an affordable, all-electric highway car in the United States. This wouldn’t be the first time a car company tried to market an electric car in this country. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.


GELLERMAN: A small company in Norway has big plans on the drawing board to build plug in electric cars in the United States.

The car called TH!NK - with an exclamation point in place of the “I” - faces an uphill climb, but as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, it just might be the little engine that could.

LOBET: Back in 1990 air quality officials in California demanded that automakers build a certain number of electric cars to cut down on tailpipe emissions and reduce hazardous smog.

The Th!nk City car may be built in the US (Courtesy of Th!nk Global)

Automakers fought back, producing as few electric cars as possible. Ford Motor Company turned to Norway to satisfy its requirement, purchasing a line of cars called Th!nk. But car makers continued to press the case that battery technology wasn't good enough, and in 2003 they persuaded California officials to back off the electric car requirement. Ford immediately sold the electric Th!nk division back to the Norwegians. Other automakers crushed their cars.

But the Th!nk refused to die. The Norwegian Company "Think Global," is now looking to employ 300 Americans building Th!nk vehicles in the United States. New auto jobs? In the US? CEO Richard Canny says yes.

CANNY: We plan to produce the Think City in one of the states in the United States and then go on sale in 2010.

LOBET: Forget those souped up golf carts. The Th!nk City is an electric car that will go on the highway and seat four, or if you fold down the rear seats and open the hatch, two plus trunk space.

CANNY: Th!nk City is bigger than a smart car and smaller than most other cars on the US market today. It is fully electric. And it can go 112 miles on a single charge. The US version will have a top speed of 70 miles per hour.

Th!nk Global is looking for a place to build this Th!nk City car in the US (Courtesy of Th!ink Global)

LOBET: And that's about the speed Th!nk was moving when it hit a wall last fall, just as it was trying to ramp up production. Gasoline was over four dollars a gallon. The electric business was golden. Then all of a sudden credit to buy new equipment and pay new workers evaporated. Th!nk's suppliers wanted payment early. Th!nk was forced to reorganize. Building a plant in the United States is part of its reorganization plan. Richard Canny says the global moves to cut carbon emissions and the new administration in Washington are both favorable.

CANNY: Well I think all of a sudden the US has moved from being far behind in the field of electric vehicles to really being perhaps one of the leaders if not the leader.

LOBET: Canny cites new financial incentives for buyers and builders of clean vehicles. And he says finally, the batteries that are the beating heart of electric cars, are advancing. Environmental writer Jim Motavalli agrees.

MONTAVALLI: I do think batteries are advancing quite rapidly and it’s gotten to the point where most people really see we’re going to replace internal combustion engines with electric.

LOBET: Detroit automakers, especially Chrysler, have announced more electrically driven cars, most of them hybrids.

MONTAVALLI: Detroit will definitely follow the same path as foreign automakers like Th!nk. Whether they have the financing to produce the cars in unclear.

LOBET: Which is why low interest government loans in the US and elsewhere are crucial for companies like Th!nk. And for anyone hoping to someday, someday soon, walk into a dealership and buy an affordable car that needs little or no gasoline.

For Living On Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet.



Th!nk Global Electric Cars


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