06.25.2010 - by Plug In America
Driving Th!nk, Six Years Apart

Think 017 Th!nk was my first electric car, leased from Ford in 2002-2004. My wife and I loved that little car and were heartbroken when Ford canceled all Th!nk leases. Six years later, I got to drive the Th!nk again. (Photos: New Th!nk in red, old Th!nk in blue.) Think 2002 #2

The company has returned to its roots as a Norwegian automaker, this time with a factory in Finland and another under construction in Elkhart, Ind. Some 1,500 or so Th!nks have been ordered in Europe, and 500 more will start going to U.S. fleets in late 2010, with U.S. sales to consumers expected to start sometime in 2011. The Euro versions use Zebra batteries, and Enerdel lithium-ion batteries will go in the U.S. cars.

Think 005I won’t repeat all the details in the fine review by Linda Nicholes on this same blog — a 100-mile range on 17 kWh battery packs, etc. etc. What I can add, though, is the perspective of someone who drove Th!nk for years and has been behind the wheel of a Toyota RAV4-EV for the past 5 years. (See videos below.)

Th!nk’s cartoon tinyness combined with a surprisingly comfortable and roomy interior were still there, though these are less surprising to people today since Smart cars and Minis have appeared in the ensuing years. I would have liked to see the “2+2” seating configuration that will be offered as an option instead of just the 2-seater hatchback, but that will have to wait.

The most noticeable thing as I started to drive is that this Th!nk didn’t feel quite as peppy as the original, mainly because of the marked regenerative braking that can be felt in both the “Economy” mode and the “Drive” mode.

Think 018The first Th!nk had no regen, and was a beautiful coasting car. In the RAV4-EV, the driver shifts into regen mode when desired. It’s automatic in Th!nk now. Clearly the engineers decided the efficiency advantages are greater with constant regen than with an easy coasting option (helping enable a 100-mile range vs. the 55-mile range on earlier NiCad batteries). For me, it’s a bit less fun, but anyone who never drove the earlier Th!nk probably won’t think twice about it.

In the video interview with this post, I rode with Wilson Leong of Akeena Solar in his virgin drive in an electric car and recorded his reactions. Wilson was able to find a sweet spot when letting up the accelerator pedal that seemed to give the car coasting ability. And overall, he liked the driving experience a lot. He then test-drove a Toyota RAV4-EV brought to the event by owner Michael Moira and like that as much or more than the Th!nk.

Think 006I already knew from experience that the Th!nk would drive well and could meet my driving needs, so of course what I want to know is what it might cost. Th!nk’s David Antonio Wassmann said, “The announcement by Nissan” (of a $32,000 price for the Leaf, or $21,00-$26,000 after incentives) “obviously helped. It forces everybody to go back and say, how do we drive down costs?” The target is to be priced comparable to conventional cars, after incentives.

The battery costs–the main factor–primarily are a result of batteries not being produced in high volumes, he said. “Any car you make in low volume is a luxury car.” The key, said Wassmann, is to get volumes up into the 10’s and 100’s of thousands. We should start to see those 10’s of thousands over the next year from Nissan and GM’s Chevy Volt, with 100’s of thousands by 2012 from Nissan and an unknown quantities of Volts. With any luck, Th!nk will ramp up too.

Think 009 Wassmann told me all the electronics have been updated since earlier Th!nks, the software is improved, all Th!nks have global positioning systems (GPS) and the ability to do live communications (so, for example, you’ll know remotely when the car has finished charging). There’s an iPhone app ready and waiting for the cars.

Besides the 120-volt and 240-volt charging options, the company has been testing fast charging with the Enerdel batteries. “We know we can” do it, Wassman said, but won’t be rushing to offer a fast-charging option, partly because there is no U.S. standard yet for fast-charge equipment, as they have in Japan.

Thanks go to a number of groups in addition to Th!nk for organizing the test-drives today: our host Better Place, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Bay Area Clean Cities, the Bay Area Council, and Silicon Valley Network Joint Venture.

–Sherry Boschert

9 comments on “Driving Th!nk, Six Years Apart”
  1. A traffic hazard? Not. Tens of millions of miles driven by RAV4-EVs have shown no risk from freewheeling but HAVE let us experience the fun and satisfaction that comes with letting the car coast when appropriate without the drag of regenerative breaking. Regen has its place, and is great, but so does freewheeling. I wish the new generation of EVs would give us both options, but so far theyre all designed to lock us into regen. — Sherry

  2. Mike M. says:

    You wrote about regen on the accelerator:
    Hmmm, I wonder why?

    The answer is quite easy, it is what all stick drivers would expect. A stick transmission have direct connection between the wheel and engine, when you depress the accelerator the car will slow down.

    Most people in Europe drive a stick. Using the engine to slow down the vehicle is quite common, thus saving gas on cars that are newer than 20 years old. Having a EV freewheel would be a traffic hazard!!!

  3. Hi Sherry,

    I was at the X-Prize, and the only EV (actually a serial hybrid) that I am aware of that has an easy coast mode is the FVT eVaro. Even the Aptera has some level of regen no matter what mode you are in — and I think the MPGe numbers reflect this to a certain extent. I know that the eVaro only has regen on the brake pedal, and that they get *all* of their braking from regen down to ~5mph, when the friction brakes take over. It can stop 60-0mph in just 130 feet!

    It seems that all the EV’s that use some level of regen in the accelerator pedal end up having shorter ranges than they should. The Mini-E, the iMiEV, and the Th!nk, the Aptera, etc. — I do not know about the Leaf. Hmmm, I wonder why?

    Sincerely, Neil

  4. Neil, I agree. Unfortunately, Th!nk is not alone in limiting the fun fun fun freewheeling/coasting characteristic of EVs. As far as I know, every other plug-in vehicle maker with new cars coming onto market is making the default be significant regenerative braking mode too. Sigh. Guess Ive been spoiled in the past 5 years of driving the Toyota RAV4-EV. I hope at least one automaker decides to let us coast as the default mode, so that consumers can choose the vehicle they like best.

  5. Sherry, thanks for the perspective on the new version vs the older one. I am disappointed in the lack of “easy coasting” in the new car — this is by far the most efficient way to go. The regenerative braking should *only* be on the brake pedal. Because, coasting uses the potential energy of the moving car much more efficiently than does regenerative braking. Coast when you need to carry your speed to gain distance, and only use regenerative braking when you must slow down.

    I really hope that Th!nk makes the (software?) change to make this possible in the Economy mode.

    Sincerely, Neil

  6. I believe he said that it would be an option, but cant remember for sure. Certainly, the brochure they handed out listed 2+2 optional second-row seating. Confusing. Remains to be seen, I suppose.
    Sherry

  7. We were told that the 2+2 seating mentioned I. The brochure was a misprint and that it won’t be offered in the US. Did your Think rep mention anything about that?

  8. glenn says:

    This is what we need! Especially for local driving. Once they get going on this kind of thing it won’t be long before “sky is the limit” on the driving range of the batteries. And once the price gouging is gotten under control, ‘all will be right with the world.’

  9. Tom R Simenstad says:

    EnerDel battery is now available in Norway and the EnerDel equipped cars are less expensive.

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