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THINK delivers first U.S.-built electric cars

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Here's a cool image from the Seattle Times that shows all the little plastic cars lined up inside the plant.


Seattle Times, January 31, 2012: "Big bet on tiny cars a bust"
(same article from the Tribune.)
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The Think City isn't actually such a bad car and in some ways especially with the molten salt battery. It gives it a distinct advantage in colder climates for range and if you can live with 2 seats the back is suprisingly roomy.
The problem has always been a too high sales price. It sort of worked out in Norway with our incentives, but in the US with the very aggressive pricing of the Leaf they needed to slice the price in half. At $20 000 with incentives it might have worked out nicely...

I was checking the Think Facebook page recently and there was a reply there from a dealer in Chicago claiming to have City's available. I checked their website and sure enough they had some on the lot. So last Monday I took a trip down there to check them out, as I was pretty sure I'd never see one in real life. The dealer had three units in stock and as far as I understood him, there are 100 Thinks complete and still available, but I've also read that there are 100 unfinished units at the plant still. He was very accomodating and answered all of my questions, even though I stated up front that I probably wasn't a prospective customer. At that point he stated that two of the units could be had for under $20K. At this I was intrigued, at that price the little car looks a lot more convincing. It is not clear whether he has access to more cars, but my impression is that that deal was good only on the units he had there, he mentioned that all of the incentives had been taken already, thus the steep discount. This leads me to believe that he had to take title of the cars.

After a bit of talking he offered me a test drive, which I accepted. We went only around a few block area, so my experience is limited, but here are my impressions, keep in mind this is the first electric car I have ever driven.

Driving a car without engine noise was to me a bit weird, yet the car drove like any other. It is a small car, to be sure, but not uncomfortable. Build quality was about what you'd expect, not luxurious, but good materials nonetheless. The one thing I didn't like was that the there was a growling noise while steering inputs were made, especially at low speeds. I'm not sure if that was only this particular car, but it did diminish the more we drove. It was a cold day and the car had been sitting for a while so maybe it just needed to "wake up/warm up". Off the line acceleration was not the instant torque jolt I expected from reading about electric cars, but once to about 20mph it was fine. Not sure if that was a trait of this particular car or if you could reprogram it for a bit more lunge off the line. Then again I'm not typically the type to dispense large amounts of throttle from a stop, so it may have just needed to be spurred harder.

Outward visibility is excellent; in fact on a lane change maneuver when looking over your shoulder the Think has the best visibility of any car I've driven due to the huge rear window which extends down to the bumper. It is certainly an easy car to park! Only overhead traffic lights were hard for me to see if we were first in line, because I am tall and the upper roof line was out ahead of me a bit. My guess is that the battery pack is directly under the seats -- you sit "on" the City as if in a chair -- but the cabin floor under the seats and the back compartment are quite high. There is a pretty good amount of room behind the rear seats; you certainly could use it for a trip to the grocery store, unless you have a big family or are stocking up for a party!

To be honest, all in all it actually was a pretty good car. I think that if Think would have built the car with smooth painted body panels it wouldn't look so much like a toy with the textured plastic look and more people would have taken the car seriously. Well, that and the price point needed to be much more appropriate. If it was priced like a Smart ForTwo I think it would be a viable competitor. To my eyes the Think is a better looking car, as it is much better proportioned. But a person's expectations would have to be appropriate; like a Smart I would consider it a car for running around town or short trips. Due to its small size that should be the impression the average person would get, and as a result I don't see the electric range as a limiting factor for that type of use.

Would I buy one? At sub-$20K you can make a much better case for it. I would have no problem driving one around, but keep in mind I'm also a guy who drove my Honda Spree pit scooter to work a few times last year! The trouble for me (and probably a lot of other people) is that even at less than $20K, I can make the comparison to my 2006 Jaguar XJ8 which I bought used last year for $17K. Jaguar or Think? If I were a little more wealthy I could see it as a third car for knocking around; for me it can't trump the sportiness or luxury of my other cars. Which is fine, it's not supposed to be either of those things, but it maybe does illustrate the uphill climb the car faced.

It's a good car, but I agree, $40K+ was a bit too dear for what it is.
Another thing the dealer stated was that the plan by the new owners is to redesign the car, possibly improve on it a bit, and rerelease the new version as a 2013 model. I cannot verify this of course; either he was giving me a sales pitch, or he does in fact have some insider information. Since the bankruptcy things have been kind of nebulous regarding the future plans. I guess if anyone would know, he would. He also had at his facility a 2011 BYD e6, which he showed me. He said that certification was being finalized and that units would be available for fleet purchase in the spring. It wasn't the worst looking thing I've ever seen, about Honda Odyssey sized, but it sure was a surprise to see one, as I haven't heard much about BYD's upcoming plans. I asked if this was privileged information but he told me to go ahead and get the word out.

By the way, the dealer is Green Wheels Chicago