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The Carchive: TH!NKCity EV

Chris Haining June 29, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 21 Comments

It’s hot out there. Really, really hot. What better than to dive under shelter and relax with a cool, refreshing blast from the past? It’s time to grit our teeth and pull something from the lucky tombola of motoring history.

Last time we prodded a stiff corpse from the past, it was the British Vauxhall Magnum. Today we’re heading to Norway to look at a real curiosity, and a reminder of the shaky, uneven nature of the path that brings us to where we are right now. It’s the TH!NKcity electric car. Welcome back to The Carchive.

Clickening the images markedly improves their usefulness

“A city car. No pollution, exhaust or noise. The fact that you are willing to consider a car so environment-friendly, for yourself or for your company, shows that you’re clearly different from other car buyers”

I picked this brochure up from the 2000 British Motorshow, in Birmingham. The future was all the rage at the turn of the millennium – everybody was frantically rushing about to figure out how to heal the world, you know, make it a better place. Ford was one of those (groups of) people, and among its world-cuddling ideas was to dip a toe into the electric car market. Which, of course, didn’t really exist around that time.

Well, it did, but not in any mainstream capacity. If you were very wealthy indeed in the year 2000, and had no need for a vehicle that functioned in any way that resembled a regular combustion engined car, you could buy an electric conveyance. But even the Indian-built REVAi (sold as the G-Whiz in the UK), wouldn’t arrive for another few years. Enter the TH!NKcity.

THINK (styled with an ! in place of the I) started out as Pivco (Personal Independent Vehicle Company), in Norway, in 1991. It spent eight years on prototyping and technological development and its money was on the brink of drying up at the point that Ford acquired the company. It was then branded TH!NK after the most recent vehicle design it had signed off. An ‘environmentally sound’ car was just what Ford needed at that point, and that’s how a TH!NKcity came to be smack dab at the centre of Ford’s stand at the 2000 Birmingham International Motor Show.

“Charging your TH!NKcity is simplicity itself. A normal wall socket with 220v-240v is all you need. You can charge your car as many times a day as you need and since TH!NKcity uses an ordinary wall socket, most car parks are able to provide you with charging facilities”

There’s a whole load of wonderfully idealistic and slightly naive thinking presented on these pages. For a start, eighteen years later our electric car charging networks are broader than anybody could possibly have imagined back at the turn of the Millennium, with support for super-fast charging that’s starting to make electric power look viable as a direct replacement for fossil fuels. However, there’s still no sign of car park operators showing willingness to let you syphon off their electricity and run trailing leads all over the place.

What’s more, although you can ‘charge your car as many times a day as you like’, there are only so many multiples of 5-6 hours available in a given day, and thats how long the old-fashioned Nickel Cadmium battery pack – all 250kg of it – took to charge.

“Electric cars are generally more expensive because of the upfront investment in batteries. Maximum range is approximately 53 miles and is therefore best suited for urban driving conditions”

And then there’s the range. 53 miles didn’t just mean that it was ‘best suited for urban driving conditions’, but pretty much useless anywhere else. Max speed was 56mph, and only the 0-30mph acceleration time was quoted – 7.0 seconds.

At the motorshow, Ford exhibited not just the TH!NKcity but also a pair of electric bicycles called the TH!NKbike Fun and Traveller, which I seem to remember being astronomically expensive. The same was true of the TH!NKcity, too, which can only have counted against its chances of success – even if you did get a STACK instrument panel of the same design as that fitted to the Lotus Elise.

“Think city has been developed in close cooperation with leading European safety professionals, and demonstrates good results in European collision tests”

At least the TH!NKcity was a damn sight closer to being a proper car than the REVAi / G-Whiz would turn out to be, the latter performing dismally in any formal crash test it was subjected to. There’s no word, though, if construction and materials with a striking resemblance to the Little Tikes Cosy Coupe made a positive contribution to safety.

By the end of 2003, Ford had divested itself of its TH!NK responsibilities, and the company returned to Norwegian independence. The TH!NKcity actually returned in a modified form five years later, this time using a more sophisticated Lithium-ion battery system, and restyled with MINI headlamps. It also had a longer 112-mile claimed range. The price remained painfully high, though, at £14,000 for the car, a further £100 per month for battery rental. This at a time where several perfectly acceptable cars could be financed for £99 per month on a PCP arrangement. I’m sure one of our European correspondents will fill us in on just how popular the TH!NKcity would become in the other nations it was marketed in, particularly its native Norway.

Today, having been divided into assets following its most recent of several bankruptcies in 2011, TH!NK Global doesn’t really exist as an individual entity, but its DNA is no doubt out there in stasis somewhere, ready to resurface when an attractive source of funding appears. Times have changed markedly for electric cars, though, and with massive Asian firms such as Hyundai and KIA making waves in the electric car mass market, it’s hard to see how such a tiny company as TH!NK can grab a share, unless it develops something utterly revolutionary.

(Images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright presumably belongs to Ford Motor Company, who have never really demonstrated any committed interest in electric cars since getting rid of TH!NK.)

  • Along vaguely similar lines, someone in Longview, Washington, is trying to sell a 2001 Nevco Gizmo. Its joystick controls and the fact that it was made in Eugene, Oregon, are almost enough to make me regret my recent acquisition instead of a Zap Xebra (had I not ample enough reasons for regret already), but it looks like the seller wants to make this a rather pricey package deal along with a 2007 Flybo. Too rich for me.

    • Tank

      that Nevco looks a lot better with its canopy up

      • outback_ute

        With the joystick control it looks more like an electric wheelchair than a car

  • Alff

    This is rhe Jefferson Starship of Carchive. Suddenly hashtag “cars you should know” feels less compelling.

    • Rough with the smooth.

    • outback_ute

      Should know in this case may be so you can avoid it?

  • Zentropy

    All the appeal of a prostate exam.

  • Sjalabais

    Last I’ve heard, TH!NK went bankcrupt a total of nine times. It’s one of many reminders that there are certain areas of the private sector a government should not venture into, burning everybody else’s cash. Despite its slightly irritating, better-than-you name, the company follows in the foot steps of that other Norwegian car, the Troll.

    It’s nevertheless very important for Norwegian policy. The TH!NK is at the beginning of today’s wild policies, allowing electric cars to be sold without sales tax, VAT or other noisy price drivers. They do park and mostly still charge for free, pay nothing on the countries countless ferries or toll roads, and make a Tesla S priced like a Volvo wagon instead of the more comparable, three times more expensive Panamera.

    The TH!NK was bought by a considerable amount of private people for the aforementioned benefits, and also because it fits the Norwegian value of utter smugness before anything else exceptionally well. The Norwegian Post bought a lot of these, too. With a lousy heater, an underperforming battery, and not much space inside, you can imagine how popular it was in that capacity.

    No point in learning from that experience. With TH!NK and Buddy bankcrupt, meet the Norwegian Paxster. Yes, this is meant for an arctic country:

    • Rover 1

      They’ve sold 500 of those to our NZ postal service, to use instead of Honda 50cc motorbikes and according to our postman, they’re perfect. The additional weatherproofing over a motorbike is much appreciated. They’re narrow enough to travel on footpaths and they’re silent, and of course virtually zero emissions as most of the country’s electricity is hydro, wind, or geothermal.( 90%, can’t go to 100%, we have to keep some gas fired generation for top up and grid security as we’re too far from anywhere to share someone elses grid)

      • Sjalabais

        NZ and N are pretty similar in energy matters. Would your postman deliver letters in knee deep snow riding a motorbike, too, before the Paxster?

        • Rover 1

          Yes, and it’s winter here, some of the ski-fields have opened. It’s not that long ago that our posties used pushbikes. They still do in some parts of the country.

      • Zentropy

        That’s impressive regarding the country’s electricity production. I bet in the US ours is well over half from fossil fuels, which is embarrassing.

        • Rover 1

          We have extensive coal and gas reserves which, it has just been announced, will not be further explored. The great thing with renewables is that once you’ve built the plant, the fuel is free, so that appeals to our innate frugality. The no more digging announcement has met with some controversy, with vested interests etc, but anthropogenic climate change is quite rightly here accepted as a reality. Real problems need real solutions. Someone has to start sometime.

          • Sjalabais

            There you are a large step ahead of the Norwegians, congrats to a responsible political move! Oil and gas exploration will not stop in the foreseeable future on our shores, even if 1/3 of voters would support such a motion already.

  • Van_Sarockin

    I came across a Th!nk, not long after they were introduced. Stereotypically, it was in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. It looked to me like a very reasonable upgrading of a golf cart or ATV, and fairly useful for low speed, limited range use in urban areas. I think if you upgraded these about one more notch towards being a car, you might have something that could sell a few hundred thousand units a year, in some markets. Much like the original Mini was conceived as the smallest, most minimal conveyance generally acceptable, and became (still is) a fashion icon.

  • Jeff Glucker

    I DROVE ONE OF THESE

    • Sjalabais

      I REALLY LIKED YOUR PUNS.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    There are a lot of the later Li-ion powered Think City’s in the Portland Oregon area because PGE did a blowout sale on Think City’s after the 2011 bankruptcy. A good friend bought one as a complement to his Nissan Leaf and was happy with it until it was totaled.

  • Maymar

    I just can’t get over how early 2000’s that font is. Maybe the TH!NK would have been more successful if they’d used translucent plastic in bright colours for the body.

  • neight428

    Rolling proof of the axiom, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”