On the Road

Maybe what we're waiting for is the iCar?

March 27, 2011

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Electric cars are just now hitting the streets. A few of them anyway. They are by no means burning up Main Street. I think I know why. Electric cars look too much like every other car. Maybe we need an iCar.
Imagine Valmet's Think City EV with a bite-out-of-the-apple logo on the door.
Imagine Valmet's Think City EV with a bite-out-of-the-apple logo on the door.


If you're ready to shell out 30- to 45-grand for the privilege of driving the first electric car on the block, you're gonna want your friends and neighbors to know about it -- we're just wired that way. What's so unique about the Chevy Volt or Nissan's Leaf? They look the same as almost every other subcompact out there. Outwardly, there's nothing special about them at all. They lack the styling that says, "hey, I'm cool and way ahead of the curve. Think '60's-vintage Mustangs, PT Cruisers, and the ubiquitous VW Bug.

The Fisker Karma and the Tesla Roadster are in such a class, but if you can afford $90,000 to $110,000 for a car that goes 50 miles on a charge, you don't really care what others think about you -- and all the power to you.

For the rest of us grunts trying hard to carve out a little niche in the world with a personal statement -- what is the choice of a car at the end of the day? -- let's look at Apple's marketing genius. What's an Apple computer got that Dells, HPs, Sonys and rest lack? A rock-solid brand and image. People want to be seen with a MacBook under their wing. The others are just tools.

So, what if Apple were to bring an electric car to market?

A few weeks ago, during the NTEA Work Truck show, a few journalists piled into a van for an off-site tour EnerDel lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility in Noblesville, Ind., about 15 minutes from downtown Indianapolis. There, the company manufactures lithium-ion batteries for, among other things, the Think City -- and electric car manufactured in Finland. The Think City has sex appeal coming out its -- I was going to say tailpipe, but it doesn't have such a thing.

It's very cute. It's body is plastic. It comes in cool colors, and there's tons of room inside. Now imagine this little buggy with Apple's bite-out-the-apple logo on the door, like you see on the flipped-up lid of their laptops. It's an iCar.

I made the i-connection while asking the usual phalanx of questions about the car. When I asked where the Think City would be available to buy, Ener1 President, Tom Goesch, said with no hint of irony, "Best Buy."

What's so strange about buying an electric car at a big-box electronics retailer? The car is more a piece of electronica with wheels and seats than a car in the mechanical sense. If it needed repairs, it would more likely need a computer technician than a mechanic. It seems a bit of a stretch at this point to think people would walk into a store like that lay down $35,000 for a car, but stranger things have happened.

The Think -- once a Ford property -- is currently manufactured in Finland by Valmet Automotive, who does contract building for the likes of Porsche, BMW/MINI, Renault, Daimler and Bentley. They are shipped to the U.S. in kits and assembled in Elkhart, Ind.

The company has sold 10,000 of the plastic-bodied cars in Europe, and 2,500 of its latest generation models (seen above). They boast a range of 125 miles on a charge, with a top speed of 62 mph. Under the "hood" is 30-kilowatt electric motor with 27-kilowatt-hour EnerDel lithium-manganese battery pack.

There's absolutely no connection between Think, Valmet, or Apple that I know of, but imagine what some branding and image building could do for electric cars?

The young dude behind the wheel, by the way, is the newest member of the HDT/truckinginfo.com editorial team, twenty-something Tom Nunlist. Looks right at home, doesn't he.


More info: www.thinkev.com

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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