Market Snapshot

Think Global to Build Electric Vehicles, Facilities in United States

Norwegian electric-vehicle (EV) maker Think Global has aspirations of expanding into the U.S. market. Although the company is presently feeling the burdens of a sour global economy, they are motivated to expand operations into North America. Managers for the brand have announced their intention to build a technical center and manufacturing plant as early as 2010.

With $25 billion in grants and funding being provided by the U.S. Department of Energy for such companies, the charge to electrify the vehicle market has a more solid grounding than it did the first time around.

Think Global is not just another startup. They have been around for 17 years and have established a presence in the electric driveline supply chain. Despite being under the Norwegian version of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the EV maker believes it will be able to successfully establish itself within the coming months.

The company’s CEO, Richard Canny, formerly of Ford, has confidence in the domestic manufacturing base.

“The United States is quickly overtaking Europe as an attractive market for EVs and is an ideal location to engineer and build EVs," Canny said. Think Global has even begun partnering with SEMA-member A123 Systems and others for compact lithium-ion battery packs.

Other members in the business have had success campaigning their technology and integrating their products into the current fleet. AC Propulsion, developers of electric-vehicle components and systems, partnered with BMW Group on the MINI E, a limited-edition electric version of the popular modern MINI.

SEMA-member company AC Propulsion helped supply components to BMW Group’s electric MINI project. This limited-edition model will test the viability of electric powertrains in real-world conditions.

Canny has been in the United States to discuss plans of plant and engineering operations with eight different states. The outcome, if Think Global succeeds in obtaining grant money from the Department of Energy, would be a 60,000-sq.-ft. tech center and test facility that would employ 70 engineers and 300 assembly workers.

The desired first year’s production capacity is set to be 16,000 with an expected growth to 60,000 annually. Think Global's current goal is to begin production in 2010 and release an initial batch of 2,500 vehicles.

While Think Global is not as famous of a name as Ford, the two automakers have collaborated. Ford co-sold the City and Neighborhood electric vehicles earlier in the decade. Think Global's flagship car, the City, is a small two-seater that would end up selling for around $20,000 after rebates and incentives, plus an extra $80 to $90 dollar lease fee for the batteries.

Performance claims include a range of 112 miles with a recharge time of 10 hours. Think Global is currently researching possible spin-offs of the City in the form of a small cargo van, a flatbed truck and even a convertible.

Think City electric vehicle could provide SEMA members with an opportunity to engage urban dwelling consumers.

In late 2008, SEMA asked enthusiasts about their future vehicle plans and included a list of available and reasonably viable fuel options. Gasoline remained the top choice, but 17% of enthusiasts said that they would consider an electric model as their next vehicle. Whether or not they make the plunge is unclear, but the possibility is looming in the background. Most people who consider an electric vehicle an option are in their 40s and earn an average of $95,000 a year.

With a possible surge of electric vehicles headed toward the market, SEMA members are in a unique position to share their expertise, develop new products and capture new customers. — SEMA Research & Information Center