Ford Motor Co.'s environmentally friendly Th!nk brand is moving to eco-conscious California.
The global Th!nk Group, formed in January 2000, includes two units: Th!nk Mobility will produce and market battery electric vehicles; Th!nk Technologies is trying to develop and commercialize fuel-cell drive systems.
Th!nk sells the City electric car in Norway. The next-generation City will be sold in the USA in late 2001 or early 2002. Ford can build 5,000 City units annually worldwide at a factory in Aurskog, near Oslo.
Each unit will send 15 people to two locations in California by late August.
'This will get us closer to the customer,' said Glenn Ray, Th!nk spokesman. 'We want to take advantage of the California mindset and leading-edge atmosphere.'
The Th!nk Group, which includes 350 employees, will retain some operations in Dearborn, Michigan, home of its parent.
Th!nk Mobility will move 15 people to California to oversee marketing and retailing of the Th!nk City electric car, two electric bicycles and a Th!nk Neighbor low-speed electric vehicle designed for resort and golf course use, Ray said. Th!nk will hire another five or 10 people in California, he said.
Th!nk wants to locate its headquarters between San Diego and Orange County, Ray said. Eventually, about 45 people will work at the California location.
'This gives us a launch point for the whole Sunbelt,' Ray said. 'These are warm-weather vehicles.'
Th!nk also will send 15 additional fuel-cell engineers to Poway, California, a San Diego suburb, to join its existing joint venture with DaimlerChrysler and Ballard Power Systems Inc. The venture, called Xcellsis, is developing fuel-cell technology.
Th!nk expects to retain some operations such as business strategy in Dearborn and will maintain design and engineering staffs in both Michigan and California, Ray said. 'It is not a wholesale move,' he said.
In the USA, Ford Division's 49 dealers franchised to sell and service the Ford Ranger EV (electric vehicle) will also market the City.
The low-speed Neighbor goes on sale in the USA by December. Resembling a golf cart, the Neighbor has a top speed of 40 kph and a driving range of 50 km. It may be used on public roads with a speed limit of 55 kph but is primarily designed for private roads at resorts, retirement communities, golf courses, college campuses and industrial sites. The Neighbor will be marketed primarily online.
The two electric bikes go on sale this summer.
'We are bringing a full line of electric-powered vehicles to market, which has never been done before,' said John Wallace, executive director of the Th!nk Group, in announcing the move. 'We are also developing an innovative order and delivery system with the help of the Internet.'