It’s been an up and down ride for the electric car maker, THINK North America, which has manufacturing operations in Elkhart, Ind.
WSBT, South Bend, reported that just last month THINK’s parent company filed for bankruptcy. Now, there is renewed hope for the company and its factory in Elkhart as a new owner has emerged.
According to a press release, THINK Global AS has been purchased by a prominent international technology entrepreneur who is committed to maintaining the company’s key role in the manufacture of electric vehicles.
A court-appointed trustee selected Boris G. Zingarevich, whose investment operations are based in St. Petersburg, Russia, as the winning bidder following a bankruptcy proceeding initiated by the Norwegian carmaker last month.
In addition, Zingarevich signed a memorandum of understanding with American advanced lithium-ion battery maker Ener1 Inc. and Finnish automobile engineering and manufacturing concern Valmet Automotive Inc. to cooperate in relaunching THINK.
It’s been a year and a half since Governor Mitch Daniels made his trip to Elkhart to announce the start of the electric car factory that many thought was the answer for the manufacturing community hit hard by the recession.
But almost as quick as THINK took over the old Philips Products factory in Elkhart, it’s parent company Think Global filed for bankruptcy.
“It’s been somewhat of a disappointment getting it going,” said Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore.
Moore says at its peak, THINK NA only employed 25 people. Now, it’s much less. There are currently 11 people working at the factory, a far cry from the 415 jobs promised by 2013. But with new owners comes new hope.
Moore says he’s been assured by a THINK spokesperson that the company’s new owners want to build cars in Europe and North America.
“They do have an interest in producing cars here in the United States as well,” Moore said, “And producing cars in the United States means producing cars in Elkhart.”
The electric car maker that launched its North American operations in Elkhart, Ind., has filed for bankruptcy protection in Norway, a major creditor said Wednesday (June 22) morning.
The Indiana Business Journal reported that Think Global AS plans to liquidate its assets, according to a statement from its exclusive battery supplier, Ener1 Inc.
Ener1, which engineers and makes its batteries in the Indianapolis area at its EnerDel subsidiary, notified investors Wednesday that the company would take a charge of more than $32 million on unpaid loans and accounts receivable from Think Global.
Think’s spokesman in Detroit, Brendan Prebo, could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
“I think the car is quickly becoming a historic footnote,” said J. William Moore, publisher and editor of the Nebraska-based EV World, which covers the electric vehicle industry. “There’s a whole bunch of big, serious competitors hitting the market soon.”
Think hasn’t sold nearly as many cars in North America as it hoped, and early this year asked Ener1 to stop shipping batteries while it worked through a backlog of cars at the Elkhart assembly plant. That contributed to layoffs at Ener1’s local operations.
Then, in May, New York-based Ener1 told investors it would write off its $73 million stake in Think, a move that sent its share price to new lows.
Ener1 months ago shifted its focus from supplying batteries for electric cars to utility energy storage. The Mount Comfort assembly plant has been turning out battery packs for the Russian electric grid. Ener1 announced on June 16 a deal with JSC Mobile GTES, a subsidiary of the Federal Grid Company in Russia, which could lead to more manufacturing work in the future.
Think Global opened its Elkhart factory last year with hopes of producing 2,500 autos per year initially and employing 415 people by 2013.
All manner of hybrid vehicles and electric cars are coming to market these days, and Mike Prosser believes some of them are a perfect complement to the recreational vehicles he rents and sells on Milwaukee’s south side.
That prompted him to add something called a Coco to his product lineup at Prosser RV Rentals & Sales in Milwaukee. The Coco is a two-seat, low-speed vehicle manufactured by Kandi Technologies Corp. of Jinhua, China.
Powered by six lead-acid batteries, it’s an insurance policy against a sudden spike in crude oil prices, Prosser said.
“A natural hedge against that in my mind would be the ability to sell something that is super-efficient and environmentally friendly, and that’s these electric cars,” he noted.
Prosser signed on with the Chinese firm after talking with company officials at a trade show in Indianapolis in February.
“It gets a lot of heads turning,” he said. “People pull over and stop and say, ‘What the heck is that?”’
The Kandi Coco will appeal to a certain segment of the population, he said, including RV owners who tow a smaller vehicle behind their rigs for use once they arrive at their destinations.
The Coco weighs about 1,600 pounds. “It’ll save them fuel from a towing point of view,” Prosser said.
Prosser also wanted to be on the ground floor of a technology that is generating a fair amount of buzz. So far, the alternative fuel vehicle market is the transportation sector’s version of the Wild West.
“There’s an enormous range of products that are coming to market or being talked about coming to market,” said Brett Smith, senior industry analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Realistically, there are niche, limited markets for a lot of these variations.”
That’s exactly where Prosser wants to be.
“I like to be able to offer something of value that you don’t find from anybody else,” he said.
His company already sells scooters.
The Coco, he said, is “going to be for somebody who wants that kind of thing, willing to put up with a little quirkiness of the car.”
The Coco claims a range of up to 60 miles on a single charge. It tops out at 25 mph but can be programmed to hit a top speed of 35 mph, Prosser said. Suggested retail is $12,995 for the convertible and $13,995 for the hard top.
Prosser said he realizes the small vehicles might not take off, but believes there’s a good chance they will.
“Everything is a risk,” he said.
Adding that the product line is a strategic move, he said, “Where can I be 10 years from now vs. if I just stayed with the mainstream and did everything conventionally?”