Wednesday, August 27

Would Ford Rather Die Than Switch?

Key executive who abandoned Ford places $70 million dollar battery order to power Think EV

Autoblog Green has news of ThinkGlobal's new $70 million dollar battery order.

Recently ThinkGlobal announced a new CEO - the key Ford executive who had been Worldwide Director of Strategic Planning.

"The appointment of Australian born Canny will help Think accelerate its growth plans and compete globally in the rapidly emerging electric vehicle market" said CEO Jan-Olaf Willums "Richard brings twenty five years of global automotive experience to Think which will help us greatly in growing the company quickly and increasing our international presence. His extensive background at Ford in both strategy and operations will be ideal to help guide Think as we grow."

Canny expressed his optimistic view on the future of electric vehicles, saying "the electrification of the automobile industry has reached a tipping point. Think is perfectly positioned to capitalize on this trend and is the leader in this rapidly growing industry sector. My view is that Think is where the future of the automotive industry will be."

It's not good news for a company when key executives jump ship to join new technology startups. Ford has had a history of dropping the ball on the EV. In the 1990's, Ford had to build at least a couple of models of zero emissions vehicles to comply with the California Mandate. They briefly made the little Ford Ranger as all electric. The few remaining ones are still escalating in resale value on eBay. A retired auto worker at a Ford Ranger plant scheduled for shutdown this year has been trying to keep it operating by once more rolling Ford Ranger EVs off the assemblyline.

Ford had initially created the Think EV to meet the California Mandate. To meet the zero emissions requirements, Ford found a little Norwegian EV company run by Jan Otto Ringdal, bought the company and produced their PIVCO electric vehicle renamed as the Think. But like GM, of Who Killed The Electric Car? fame, Ford murdered their little EV as soon as they were able to, and sold the company back. Some historical footage of that time at youtube shows some very unhappy customers having to give them up.

The little Norwegian company bought back the rights for the Think themselves, encouraged by the Norwegian government, (who says that oil-rich nations just can't think ahead!) and now that little EV just won't stay dead. Now ThinkGlobal is bringing it back to bite Ford in the US with talk of possible American production facilities. GE's Ecoimagination has invested $24 million to help. Currently ThinkGlobal is ramping up its production for deliveries in Europe this year and USA in 2009.

Per their site currently, their ThinkCity shown above will get 110 miles a charge, go to 65 mph top speed and cost about $30,000 This model can seat two and a couple of little kids in the back seat. Or lots of groceries. Or both the dogs. They also plan a 5 seater SUV that they call the ThinkOx. The name sounds as though they are making gentle fun of our SUV obsession in implying that we think we must have really heavy-duty Oxen to cart us about.

There had initially been talk of leasing the batteries with monthly payments like on a cellphone to make the vehicles themselves cheaper. It is possible that Washington will be able to pass a subsidy for EVs since Obama proposed a $6000 EV subsidy in the energy bill last year. Even though that failed to pass cloture, by one vote (McCain did not vote) there is widespread approval for this idea, and some Democrats want higher subsidies: Clinton proposed it be $10,000. This would be more like the generous subsidy Japan provided, that jumpstarted the Prius.

Think is not the only electric vehicle opportunity that has slipped through Ford's fingers.

Tanfield's Smith Electric Vehicles is using Ford to make the 'glider' or shell for their Ampere and is already using the Ford Transit as the glider for their Edison van, which is delivering groceries carbon neutrally for Tesco in the UK.
Former workers are trying to revive their electric trucks. Fords factories are ending truck production. Fleets are contacting conversion companies to re engineer Ford trucks as EVs. Now Ford's own executives are jumping ship to join EV startups. Why won't Ford make their trucks electric? Torque can even improve in an electric version. Big macho trucks can be EVs.

The largest is probably this behemoth of a hybrid diesel-electric dumptruck.
And it's not as if Ford is uninterested in sustainabilty. They are always announcing their new biodegradable banana peel seatcovers or whatever, but as an auto company, they have larger responsibilities than other firms since carbon emissions are a big part of an industry that has been reliant apon being fossilfueled.

GM, on the other hand is betting the farm on their Chevy Volt, an extended range EV: an ER-EV. If they can make it, they will need to amortise their huge investment in this by offering this truly game-changing technology in their other models. The ER-EV is more advanced than a hybrid converted to a plug-in hybrid. Its the next step after the hybrid. This is why AFSTrinity's hybrid conversion of the GM Saturn seems a bit redundant: AFS would have been smarter to pick a Ford, since Ford won't make an EV. Just as Toyota changed everything with the Prius, GM could change everything with the Volt ER-EV.

Ford is doing the world a huge disservice by hanging Ford tough on this refusal. Detroit does not have to be a has-been.

For Matternetwork