The Brief, Bizarre Tale of the Ford Th!nk City: The Norwegian-American Micro Electric Car
Ever seen one of these oddities around? They’re the result of a weird, short-lived Norwegian startup with ties to Lotus, Ford, and Tesla.
With the reveal of the electric Ford Mach E crossover on the horizon, it's a good time to take a look back at one of the many strange chapters in the history of electric Fords. One of them involved a transatlantic partnership between Ford, a now-defunct Norwegian car manufacturer, and in which Lotus and Tesla also played minor roles.
It all starts in the mid-1990s with a Norwegian startup by the name of Pivco, which was working on a two-plus-two electric city car then called the PIV4 with some help from Lotus. Though the PIV4 was production-ready by 1999, Pivco's finances were dire, and the company fell into the hands of Ford after the Blue Oval picked up a majority stake in the company. Funding secured, the PIV4—newly rebranded as the Ford Th!nk City—entered production just in time for the 2000 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where Ford declared the car would headline a line of electric Th!nk vehicles that also included golf carts and an early e-bike.
Production ended in 2002 with 1,005 cars built, and Ford sold its stake in Th!nk in 2003, but the Norwegian company's rocky road didn't end there. After a failed bid to enter the commercial vehicle market with electric buses, Th!nk again ran out of cash in 2006, and was bought by a Norwegian investment group, which hoped to restart production of the Th!nk City. Initially, it inked a battery supply deal with an infant Tesla, but the deal fell through and General Electric ended up financing the restart of Th!nk City production.
These second-generation cars featured a small facelift and technical updates, which included a 24-kWh battery, a 46-horsepower electric motor that permitted a top speed of 68 mph, and a maximum range of 99 miles. These were deemed adequate for the American market, and the Th!nk City returned to the United States in November of 2010 with the launch of production in Elkhart, Indiana. At the time, the Th!nk City was one of just a handful of electric cars that you could legally drive on American highways, along with the likes of the original Tesla Roadster, early Nissan Leaf, and Mitsubishi I-Miev.
According to an archived Edmunds article, these cars cost an outrageous $36,495 before tax incentives, so it'll come as no surprise to you that the Th!nk City flopped internationally. Th!nk Global went bankrupt for the fourth and final time in 2011, putting an end to European production, but cars reportedly continued to be built in Indiana until August 2012. On rare occasions, you can still run across a Th!nk City in American urban centers, as we found out today when pictures of one were posted to a Chicago, Illinois Facebook group.
As with those esoteric EVs mentioned earlier, the longer we get from their initial production, the more obscure they'll get. However, it's interesting to look back at the weird and wild history of EVs and their connection with big-name automakers such as Ford. EV history is littered with such subjects and greatly differs from the Tesla-led narrative pushed by its acolytes and those who haven't researched any further.
So what do you all think? Should Th!nk make a return? Could you see yourself drive something with an exclamation mark in its name? Sound off in the comments below.