City driving: Th!nk your way forward


There's a certain irony about taking four flights on a round trip of nearly 4,000km to see a car that boasts no emissions but then that's exactly the message that Think want to evangelise to the world.

The Think City is no ordinary car, it's 100% electric, needs next-to-no maintenance and will get you 160kM (100 miles) on a full charge. Ah, yes, the cynics might say, but what about that charging when there aren't enough charging points around the country?

This is where the City wins. You can charge the car wherever there is an ordinary household-stye mains outlet. It'll take 10 hours to fully charge from zero but if it's plugged in overnight that isn't an issue.

But with Nissan's announcement to build the new LEAF at their Sunderland plant and Chrysler's decision to make an electric version of the popular Fiat 500, how will Think's two-seater stack up?

Well, Think do have a head start - the car is already available in Europe and a right-hand drive version is expected in the next 12 months - and has gained early successes. Businesses buying one of these in Amsterdam can win grants of up to €15,000 per car. Richard Canny, CEO of Think, believes there may be similar opportunities in the UK.

"We've spoken to London and the feedback has been very good, a city like that is the natural environment for the Think City. Getting the car on the national agenda is more challenging," he said.

And that may be the problem; with British workers building the LEAF, Government assistance may be more inclined towards that model rather than a car built in Finland. The European market is already opening up and the company will also start building the cars in the United States from next year but to be successful Think needs to start shifting volume now. After 20 years in the electric vehicle industry, which includes a recent rescue from bankruptcy and a wholesale operational move from Norway to the home of new partners Valmet in Finland (where Porsches are also built), Think is hoping the time is right for the company to make real inroads into the EV market.

Canny admits the City is not a car for everyone. In its current two-seater form the City's appeal may be limited but for city commuters, it makes perfect sense. The average daily commute will be considerably less than the 100-mile reach of the battery, so running out of 'fuel' shouldn't be an issue. Our drive on the wet, snowy roads in Finland found a car that was more than capable of holding its own against many traditionally-fuelled small cars with impressive acceleration, ride and braking. It's an incredibly nippy -and quiet - car that would thrive on the streets of say, London, Manchester or Glasgow.

And in terms of technology, the Think City is a truly 21st Century vehicle. The car's powerplant can be updated to allow fast-charging of the battery and a new innovation that is expected shortly is an iPhone app that will enable the driver to pre-heat (or cool) the car; with many urban drives just a short distance, drivers can be warm at the start rather than just at the end of their journeys. The app will also provide data on the battery charge of the car and its estimated range and in a further demonstration of Think's forward-thinking, the communication system will be open source so anyone can develop apps for the City.

Of course, this is all great in theory but until the car is available in the UK - and at what price (£14k is a rough figure)? - it will remain just that. Are British drivers ready for another slightly geeky-looking two-seater (a four-seater version is expected in a year or so) or is the love-hate relationship with petrol and diesel-powered vehicles still too strong to break? That is the tricky question facing Think.

(Autoblog's travel and accommodation in Finland for this article was provided by Think)
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