Remember when the U.S. capital of RV production, Elkhart, IN was going to escape the doldrums that the decline of the motor home industry brought on by shifting over to building electric cars? Not so fast. As NPR reports, rising demand for RVs has helped boost employment in Elkhart, IN, while the number of workers at the factory building Think electric vehicles has dwindled to just two.

The town has benefited from RV sales that jumped more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2011 to about 250,000 units. Such increased demand has helped offset the effect of the failure of Think, whose parent company went bankrupt. Think at one time estimated that it would employ more than 400 people in Elkhart, which is about 150 miles north of Indianapolis and had an unemployment rate of about 20 percent when Think first announced its plans to make EVs there. When we visited in late 2010, things were looking so positive.

Think only reached a peak of 25 workers and is now down to two. There are about 120 Think EVs sitting at the Elkhart factory, with another 32 in various stages of completion, according to NPR.

Norway-based Think went bankrupt last June despite the fact that it had received a $118.5 million grant from the federal government. That bankruptcy helped drive investor and lithium-ion battery maker Ener1 into bankruptcy in late January. That company said in late February that it would emerge from bankruptcy this month.


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  • 14 Comments
      Sasparilla Fizz
      • 3 Years Ago
      Such a sad story with Think. Ford had bought them in the 90's when they needed an EV to sell in CA and during that time Ford funded the update to the Think (the updated version was basically complete) when the automakers got the EV requirement killed and Ford stopped production and started rounding them up (after a PR campaign by former owners Ford agreed not to destroy the cars but send them to another country) and Ford sold Think (believe that was very early in the previous decade). At that point Think basically had an improved version of their vehicle ready for production and the entire EV competitor field had disappeared. If think could have had this vehicle for sale during the last decade they would have done well - they would have owned the affordable road worthy EV field (it would have been the only serious road worthy EV till the Tesla Roadster arrived). Unfortunately by the time different people bought and sold the company and got production rolling again and stopped and started it was competing against the Nissan Leaf at the same price point and its obvious who's going to win that contest. Farewell Think, it wasn't fair and you were a great little EV that didn't get its chance till after its time.
      DaveMart
      • 3 Years Ago
      Meanwhile back in the real world the Renault Zoe is now open for booking in the UK. £13,650 starting price including VAT and £5,000 subsidy, battery hire extra, but that plus electricity work out cheaper than petrol in the UK by a wide margin. Range around 14% better than the Leaf, so on the EPA cycle it would do around 83 miles instead of the 73 miles of the Leaf. Taking out the VAT of 20% then in US terms you are talking about $16k for the car plus battery lease.
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      People are buying RVs? Wow. Crazy. I guess Think never stood a chance because they are too small to get low prices for auto parts. You can't sell a plastic 2-seater for $36K. I still want the Think Open though.
        ChrisH
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Yes we all. As an owner of a 37 footer it is all about freedom to travel when and where we please. The biggest issue of course is gas mileage, if we hit seven per mile it is a good day. This is while towing the runabout car, in our case a small pickup. I would love to see better mileage but even diesel models do not do much better and their fuel savings is lost when it comes to extra maintenance and up front costs. There is a helluva lot of empty space under this class A. If anything I do no see why class A motor homes cannot be changed to series hybrids, disconnecting the motor wholly from the wheels. That big old motor spends most of its time at lower RPM to keep us rolling only using its real power to get underway. I am pretty sure something smaller than a 455 would be more the sufficient to drive a generator. Let alone I already have a generator that powers us when we are stopped and less than 20a service is available. What would be cool is to tow an electric that can recharge itself while I tow it. Most sites we go to have 20a or 50a service and I could see charging the electric that way too.
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Spec, it was never about volume discount. they were owned by Ford at one point. I don't know exactly all of what went wrong but it was a lot. again and again and again. some key mistakes: the plastic toy car look, the ridiculous pricing, low power and choice of expensive sodium salt batteries that had to stay heated to 300c 24/7. on top of that they retooled the factory a couple of times seemingly without success so they were unable to actually produce cars when there was demand for this overpriced fisher price car. was it 1000 or 2000 ordered cars at one point? I'm not saying it's a picnic to create a successful EV production but it seems they violated some key criteria and stayed the course for decades. product appeal, product value, capitalizing on technological opportunities. and as I said well before this latest bankruptcy, it was too far gone in debt and missed opportunity to be saved at that point. and still is. there is from what I can tell nothing of value in the company that could be part of a successful venture. a car would have to be designed from scratch and the effort would be indistinguishable from a start up company. if everything else was done right the name _might_ be an asset. maybe.
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Fisher Price car! :D You make a good point when you say, 'business case.' if a company were to come out with a car that had the capabilities of a Smart car, but was priced at $40k, they need to sit back and ask, 'who is going to buy this, and why?' In some cases, a first step is needed (volt, leaf, focus EV), but something has to follow that actually works. The Model S is like that for Tesla, and hopefully the 2nd gen Volt, Leaf, Focus (or whatever successor models they will have) will be in a reasonable price range (ignoring government assistance). Although the Volt would be perfect for many people, I suspect many walk away and get a Prius instead (and with a $19k price to be released....wow). If Think we're just starting now, and Ford just bought them now, I think the result could have been different. Now, Ford has much greater motivation than they originally did.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Well they did switch from the Zebra batteries to an Enderdel Li-Ion. But it was too late by then. If someone could crank them out and sell them for $25K before tax-credit, I could see it working. At $17,500, it would make a nice little commuter car. But they were not anywhere close to that price.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Actually, the Think! is being sold here in California for $22,300. With the $7500 federal tax credit and $2500 California rebate, the final cost is $12,300 plus taxes, DMV registration, etc. Far from the $36K price quoted above.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        $36K? Jesus Holy Christ! I get the Think of the Leaf for what reason? Or not pop the extra $4K for a Volt?
      Jim McL
      • 3 Years Ago
      Spec Funny, Tesla sells a "plastic" 2-seater for over $100,000. The Think is a more practical car (only goes 70 mph) and costs a third as much. By the way, Green Wheels Chicago sells the Think new for about $32K in a market where easy to park can be a big selling point. Saturn had a very good run with their mostly "plastic" bodied early models. There are significant advantages to a car that does not rust or dent like the stamped sheet metal "tin can" cars that have dominated for 100 years. Plastic (or more likely ABS) has a few disadvantages such as higher coefficient of thermal expansion, and at high production volumes it can be more expensive. Perhaps not as quiet as steel, but I prefer the long life without maintenance.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jim McL
        The Tesla has carbon fiber. I liked the plastic body of the Think. It doesn't dent. You can fix scratches with a powerful hair dryer. No paint to chip off. But a lot of people don't like it. I really wanted that Open model. It would have been a great little vehicle for zipping around in California. I think an orange Open model is out here somewhere in Northern California. Some VC probably got it. I wonder if I could track it down and buy it off them since they probably no longer want the reminder of a deal gone sour.
      brotherkenny4
      • 3 Years Ago
      Think did not receive a DOE grant. EnerDel, who is an Indianapolis battery manufacturer and a subsidiary of Ener1 received the grant.
      mchlrus1
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would be elated to buy a car frame from Think. I would make it into a dune buggy, though.
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