AACHEN, Germany - Ford Motor Co. is starting a new experiment in vehicle distribution as a cooperative venture between two of its own brands.
Th!nk Nordic, the Norwegian electric city car manufacturer that is majority-owned by Ford, will begin leasing its battery-powered vehicles to customers later this year through Hertz Norway. Ford owns 81 percent of Hertz.
Th!nk Nordic, based in Oslo, is now manufacturing prototypes of the Th!nk car, which is powered by a nickel-cadmium battery. The car is set to go into full production at Th!nk's Oslo factory later this year. The plant can make 5,000 units annually, said Jan Otto Ringdal, vice chairman, executive director and founder of Th!nk Nordic.
The Hertz-Th!nk arrangement will be extended to Sweden and Denmark early next year. Th!nk is also studying entry into Germany. Ringdal said he also wants to get the car into test programs in US cities next year. Prototypes have already been testing in Norway and San Francisco.
The vehicles will be branded Th!nk.
Kristi Hegna Svendsen, Th!nk spokeswoman, said the company will look first to fleet customers, such as utility companies, postal services, health care organizations and governmental bodies.
Sales representatives from Th!nk will visit the customers' offices. Th!nk will also set up display centers, possibly in malls, to show off the car to would-be customers. Hertz will deliver the cars to customers and handle all servicing.
The Th!nk-Hertz alliance is an example of the kinds of synergies Ford is searching for in its ever-expanding family of brands. Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. and Chief Executive Jac Nasser have set Ford on a course to become the 'world's leading consumer company providing automotive products and services.'
Ford bought 51 percent of Th!nk earlier this year, rescuing the Norwegian company from financial difficulties. Ford is interested in the Th!nk city car not only because it is a battery-powered vehicle, but because its bodywork is made with rotational-molded thermoplastic.
Th!nk has undergone some changes since being bought by Ford. The company has a new board, chaired by John Wallace, director of Ford's environmental vehicle programs and based in Dearborn, Michigan, USA. Ringdal will be vice chairman. Per Lilleng will serve as president and run the company day-to-day. Other Ford members on the board include two other Norwegians: Frode Maaseidvaag, director of Ford European research laboratories in Aachen, and Ingvar Sviggum, vice president of sales operations for Ford of Europe in Cologne. The company is also changing its name from Pivco Industries AS to Th!nk Nordic.