By on July 14, 2009

What’s the deal with these small cars and their self-righteous names? I’m talking about the Smart, the iQ, and the Think. Does anybody really believe that making a car diminutive turns it into some kind of Einstein? If anything, I’d be happy if car makers showed they understand they have some really stupid machines out there. The Fiat Cretino, the Ford Fiasco, the Opel Idiot, the Mercury Moron: now that’d be Truth in Naming.

When a review starts on a sour note, you know the reviewer did not like the car. True: I did not like the Think. To explain why, I’ll have to digress. At a recent electromobility conference in Zurich, Frank Rinderknecht of Rinspeed (a company that used to be in the business of upping cars till they had about 600 horsepower), explained a successful electric car needed (but seldom had) three things: power, range, and emotional appeal. The made-in-Norway Think has OK power and good range but zero emotional appeal.

Not that it looks bad. The Think manages to be inoffensively non-insectoid, yet, with its large friendly eyes, is recognizable and distinct. I like that it has thermoplastic, through-colored body panels, even though panel gaps are largish. And the interior is OK too: not exactly stylish but modern enough, in a somewhat garage-built way. (Some switches and materials appear to be jarringly cheap, though). For a car similar in size to the Smart, it’s an acceptable package, and offers comfortable, though certainly not luxurious, seating and space for two with four large suitcases. If you can live with Ikea furniture, you could probably live with this.

The electric part is not bad, either. The car I drove on urban roads utilized a Swiss-made Zebra battery set-up. Zebra means cheapish, quite high capacity, easily-recyclable Sodium batteries that have only one major disadvantage: they have to be kept hot. In other words, you have to connect to the grid at least every few days or your batteries conk out. From what I have heard, users report few problems after thousands of loading cycles. It sounds OK to me: if I had an EV I’d plug it in every night anyway. And performance is fine too: range is over 100 miles, top speed 62 mph. Satisfyingly, it feels muscular from the start, just as EVs tend to do.

But the start is where the problems begin. The Think doesn’t ride well, which is no wonder since it has a really short wheelbase. It crashes and wobbles over bumps; and the suspension feels underdeveloped, as if it can’t handle the car’s torque. Step on the gas upon topping a traffic-calming ridge and the tires chirp and the whole car shudders. The steering feels lifeless and mushy. And my tester had a noisy vacuum pump. I’m on the record for liking small cars and for liking EVs. But this one feels too cheap.

Dan Neil, I am sorry to say I don’t agree with you. Ford was right to quit this project, and you are wrong. The Think is not a desirable car. It’s laudable that the Think is the second (after the Tesla) crashtest-approved EV on the market. For urban (European) niches, it may be acceptable as a zero-emission vehicle. But to make economic sense, I’d think an EV has to be a good commuter car, which this is not.

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10 Comments on “Capsule Review: Th!nk EV...”


  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Martin, Thanks for the write-up. Having a fondness for (at least the idea of) EVs, the Think always struck me as one of the best compromise solutions, being designed specifically for both urban and (limited) commuting use. Too bad about the ride. Perhaps if Ford had kept it, their excellent chassis folks could have done something about that. And the sodium battery will likely be replaced with Li-ion cells soon.

  • avatar
    crackers

    I could tolerate all those shortcomings if the price was right. At $10K out-the-door, this would be a useful second car. At prices anywhere near the SMART, I wouldn’t touch it.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Sounds like a major improvement over the original Think City. I used to drive one aroud Dearborn which was quite fun in that near death experience kind of way. That car felt like a Fisher Price kiddie car hopped up to go 60 mph. Still, I think electric city cars make alot of sense. If the progress continues apace at Think they may do well.

  • avatar
    charly

    Crackers: This car is targeted at the European market with it’s high taxes on gas and cars and high tolls. An extreme example would be London where it wouldn’t pay toll and use cheap electricity in stead of gas. It probably makes economic sense to buy this car instead of a car that cost $10k less

  • avatar
    t-truck

    Short vehicles with choppy ride, build for a narrow niche market will never sell right?

    Mark as evidence to the contrary Jeep Wrangler. Sure it rides like crap, but does well off-road where it is designed to perform. It also portrays an image that many buyers like, sporty, outdoors, that sort of stuff.

    Same with the Think, it is small, light and short so it will never have a fabulous ride, but sounds like it might be the first car to fill a screamingly open niche, EV that actually works and is a viable option for environmentally conscious city dwellers or people with short commute.

  • avatar
    venator

    Tesla, Fisker, Chevy Volt take notice! This is what an electric car should be. A limited range second car that is good at its intended purpose makes more sense to me as an electric car than a 300hp sports car or a sports-luxury sedan or something that tries to be everything for everybody.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I see some problems with that sodium battery setup. Let’s say I am going away for a week. I can’t drive my Think to the airport and leave it in long term parking; it will be dead when I get back. So I will leave the car at home and hook it up to some form of trickle charger, using energy even though I’m not driving. Then I will hop into a taxicab which is probably gas or diesel engined, emitting carbon. Doesn’t make sense.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Can you revive the battery after it has bricked?

  • avatar
    venator

    According to the Th!nk website, the car is/was available with another battery system that does not have the aforementioned disadvantages, but has a lesser range. The sodium battery system was researched by Ford in the 1990s. Obviously its disadvantages are systemic. However, it would work well in a municipal fleet (parking enforcement, etc), utilities (meter reader, etc), or mail delivery role.
    Greg Locock, I was wondering about that meself, but I have not been able to find an answer yet.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Greg, Venator, thanks for asking. It takes two to three days to re-heat the battery.

    More on the Zebra in my upcoming next review.

    But since you ask, here are some quick pros and cons.

    LiIon:
    + high energy density
    + low standbye discharge
    + billions being invested to improve it
    - expensive
    - safety still an issue due to chemical instability
    - questions of scalability caused by possible lithium shortages
    - lethality = difficult to recycle
    - difficult in cold climate areas
    - long-term reliability questions

    Sodium:
    + second-highest energy density of all commercial battery types
    + no scarcity of materials
    + reliability
    + recyclability
    + low price (around €6k for the system in the Think)
    + problem-free in cold climate zones
    + already implemented in several commercial applications
    - needs to be kept hot
    - trickle consumption of about 100w/h
    - requires days to re-heat if taken off grid
    - little investment by major companies; less potential for improvement


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