Executives from Think dropped off the City car to my house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I am excited. I'm taken for a walk around the little car, but I am immediately troubled: No back seat. The Think City is a two-seater, which means I won't be able to ferry my eight-year-old son around town during my week of EV immersion. My kid won't be pleased either, as he likes to check out my loaners from the car companies. But it's not safe for him to ride in the front seat, despite the fact that I made it to age 47 having sat in the front seat through much of my pre-teen years without a booster. I am told by Think that the car it plans to put on sale in 2011 will have a small backseat. The one I am driving is a European pre-production model.

My other concern is that I have a doctor's appointment to get to in nearby Ypsilanti, and the car was handed over with only a 40-percent charge on the battery, which in the 100-mile-range of the Think City means enough juice for just 40 miles. I'm not sure how far it is to the doctor's office, and even less sure how many total miles I'll need to drive the car from Ypsilanti over to the University of Michigan's "car lab" where I have arranged to recharge the battery from a 220-volt recharger.

It's about 96 degrees outside, and I find that the Think City does not have air conditioning. That too, I am told, will be added to the U.S.-market car. Oh well, my first two cars in life -- a 1964 VW Beetle and a 1976 Ford Courier pickup -- didn't have A/C either. But the Think City costs about $30,000 in Europe before government credits kick in. Harrumph. I get underway, and immediately start looking at the instrument cluster that shows how much juice I have, and how many miles I am traveling.

"No way have I just gone four miles," I think to myself, as it seems like the battery gauge is dropping faster than the odometer is increasing. "Will I make it? Will I need a tow on the first day?"

"Who is paying for the wrecker?" I laugh. So, this is "range anxiety."

I make it to the doctor's office, and it's about 21 miles. It turns out the University building I'm headed to is only about eight miles from the doctor's, and I'm glad I don't have to drive all the way home. So I stop at Starbuck's for an iced coffee and face my first gawker.

"Hey, what is that? All Electric? Cool," says a guy who I learn is a pharmaceutical sales rep named Gary Fender. That the Think City is an EV is hard to miss because of the garish graphics on the side of the car.

As my range anxiety has abated for the moment, I can focus on how this thing is to drive. It has lots of pickup. If there is a prejudice against EV's not being "real cars," that they will have poor acceleration when pulling out of a parking lot or into traffic, it's unfounded. In truth, the City accelerates better than my Honda Odyssey minivan with a V6 engine, and on par with my Volkswagen Jetta TDI.

Where the heck is the cupholder? Are you kidding? No cupholder? Thinking that this is another case of Europeans looking down on Americans drinking coffee and eating in their cars, I fail to see the cupholders hiding away from view. I'm starting to think this electric car has little future in the U.S. except among the Birkenstock and mung-beans-for-dinner crowd. I juggle my cup on the way to "my" charging station, while I also manage the manual steering, which could use a turning knob on the wheel like the one on my John Deere tractor.

Yes, on Day One, I clearly have complaints about the lack of refinement. But I also have to say that I am enamored with the notion of driving emission and gasoline free. As I drive to the University of Michigan's North Campus, I am forming some questions for the engineers and researchers I plan to chat with about the future of EVs in the U.S. I already know, for example, that if I can charge an EV overnight in my garage when electric rates are cheapest, my cost per mile is going to be far less than gas, perhaps as cheap as two cents per mile. But then, I think, quickly coming back to reality, that the price in the U.S. had better be closer to, say, $16,000 for me to be really interested. Think is planning to build the vehicles it sells in the U.S. at a location in Indiana in order to help bring the price down, and qualify for Department of Energy loans.

I have never been to the building I'm headed to, and as I pull over and check the map on my iPhone, I realize I have taken a wrong turn. The City's power gauge is deep in the red zone, which can't be good. It says I am two miles away, and I have about a five percent charge left, though it's hard to tell exactly how much, as the gauge is analog, not some fancy LCD digital display like in some of the recent hybrids. No more wrong turns on my way to the charging station, please.


THINK CITY SPECS




Top Speed:
68 MPH
Charge Time: 3 Hours
Range: 99 Miles
Length: About 122"
Width: About 65"
Curb Weight: About 2,284 Lbs
Batteries: Zebra Sodium, Li-Ion
Motor: 3 phase asyncron electric motor

Click the links below to read about our experience Living On Electric Avenue

Living on Electric Avenue
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Intro Day: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

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