Th!nking about a better electric car for London

30 June 2007

Th!nk car
The popular G-Wiz, rare Maranello4 and lesser-spotted Mega City electric runabouts will shortly face a new and potentially devastating rival on London’s streets. Not, sadly, a cheap version of the fabulous Tesla electric sports car, but almost: a city car powered by a Tesla powerpack wearing Th!nk badges.

Th!nk might be familiar to some – it has what biographers tend to label a chequered history.

Starting life as a startup called Pivco, Norwegian company Th!nk was acquired by Ford in early 1999. According to Tesla, the big blue oval “pumped well over $100 million” into the company – much of which went into “radical improvements” to the crashworthiness of the little car.

But the redesigned Th!nk was never launched. Changes in California’s zero-emissions vehicle policy dented Ford’s enthusiasm for electric motivation, and the venture was sold early in 2003 to KamKorp Microelectronics of Switzerland. And whatever plans the Swiss had, they didn’t work.

At the end of March 2006 Th!nk Nordic was acquired from bankruptcy by Norwegian investment group InSpire – and outfit including Pivco founder Jan Otto Ringdal as a partner.

“This was a brilliant move, because the majority of the engineering work was already bought and paid for,” wrote Tesla chief executive Martin Eberhard. “The biggest opportunity to improve on the Ford-designed Th!nk was to upgrade its batteries.” Thus Th!nk chief executive Jan-Olaf Willums found himself in California shaking hands on a power-pack deal with Tesla.

The Tesla pack – called an ESS (Energy Storage System) by Tesla – is built from a large number of small, off-the-shelf lithium-ion cells. In the roadster, 6,831 roughly AA-size cells are used but the Th!nk city car will use about 3,000. These cells warm up when charging or discharging, and so are cooled by water/glycol antifreeze mix pumped around the ESS just like the coolant in a petrol engine. This allows Tesla’s charging and power management system to maintain optimum battery life by carefully managing temperature.

So when will we be able to buy Tesla-powered Th!nks in the UK?

Sadly that’s not yet clear. We contacted Th!nk and spokeswoman Kine Kværum said: “Due to production capacity limitation and a desire to become very visible in the markets we enter, we will sell exclusively in Norway and the UK in 2007 and the first few months of 2008. Most likely the cars will be sold in the London area, however the specific date of the launch is not yet decided.”

It’s also not clear if Kværum is talking about the Tesla-powered version, or one powered by Th!nk’s other battery supplier, Zebra. She gave the following figures for the upcoming car’s performance: “It has a range of 110 miles, a top speed of over 60 mph and has comfort and convenience features you would expect of a normal car such as, A/C, electric windows, mirrors, etc.” These are the figures quoted on the Th!nk web site for the Zebra-powered version.

It seems we shall have to wait a while for more news of when the uprated Th!nk will start crawling the congested streets of the UK capital.

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