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.)