Ford is killing battery-powered electric cars in favor of fuel-cell technology, with a task force deciding the fate of its Norwegian Th!nk factory.
The factory in Aurskog is still open, though its 111 employees are not producing any vehicles, said Tim Holmes, spokesman for Ford of Europe. A task force headed by Ford's European sales chief Ingvar Sviggum should decide on a course of action by the end of the month, he said.
Ford had big hopes for its Th!nk venture when it bought the Norwegian company in 1999. Former CEO Jac Nasser flew to Oslo to join the King of Norway for the plant dedication.
Since 1999, Ford has invested $120 million (E121 million) in Th!nk. But the venture produced only 1,050 units.
"You can do the math," said Holmes. "That's not good business.
"From Ford and Th!nk's point of view we were pretty disappointed. We had envisioned we would be producing close to 5,000 units a year rather than the number we've managed to assemble so far."
The venture was hampered by slower-than-expected progress toward a new battery technology. The nickel-cadmium units used to power Th!nk vehicles were severely limited by range (85km), top speed (85kph) and battery charging time (six to seven hours for a 70 percent charge). New lithium-ion batteries, such as those powering upscale mobile phones and video cameras, proved too expensive.
By contrast, Ford's Focus fuel-cell vehicle - being brought to Europe for a two-week tour - has a range of 250km to 300km and an electronically governed top speed of 128kph.
"We've just had very positive results from what we call the Generation Three fuel-cell vehicle," said Holmes. "It's now clear to us that this is really the future of mass market, zero-emission transport."
Ford will continue to use Th!nk as its umbrella brand for zero-emission technology.