By John O'Dell, Senior Editor
Last time I sat behind the wheel of a Think City EV was in 2001, when Ford Motor Co. owned the brand and was trying to figure out what to do with a tiny battery powered, plastic-bodied, two-seat commuter car from Norway.
It used nickle-cadmium (NiCd) batteries, had 50 miles of range on a good day, a top speed of 55 mpg and could usually get you across the intersection before the light changed from green to yellow.
Ford couldn't figure out how to sell it - or didn't want to at the time - and dumped the brand in 2002, subjecting Think to a glum few years of insolvency and near collapse before its present ownership team, led by U.S. battery maker Ener1, took the reins last year.
Now Think is back, selling cars in Europe and planning a U.S. factory in Elkhart, Ind. (with the help of a hoped-for federal loan guarantee that's still in the application process), and a retail launch here in the late third quarter of 2011, with Los Angeles, New York and EV-friendly Portland, Ore. as the initial major target cities, we're told.
As the company has promoted itself here, we've been bugging the U.S. team for a car to test and earlier this week we finally got one.
It was an older European model but represented - except for the creaks and rattles caused by lots of previous testing use over there - pretty much what we'll be getting in the U.S. model.
And by a nice stroke of luck, we got one of the first to come to the U.S. with the new 25 kilowatt-hour lithium-manganese battery pack from Ener1's Indiana-based battery unit, EnerDel, replacing the German-made MES-DEA Zebra sodium battery Think had been using.
The lithium pack, of which 95 percent, or 23.7 kWh, is usable power, cuts the nominal maximum range to 100 miles from 112 but increases power and recharges a bit faster - 4 hours on a 240-volt cable that snakes out from the Southern California marketing agent's offices in an industrial park near Costa Mesa's fabled South Coast Plaza retail mall.