Think's Indiana Factory To Soon Close

By · August 30, 2012

It was just 20 months ago that, Barry Engle, CEO of Think, told, "There's an opportunity for American manufacturers to reassert ourselves and be at the forefront of electric vehicle production.” But the picture in August 2012 tells a completely different story—one that reveals that powering a car with an electric motor does not magically make it a success in the marketplace.

CBS News recently visited the Think manufacturing site in Indiana. The scene is no longer the ideal background photo opp of factory workers churning out electric Think City vehicles. Rather, two workers were there putting the finishing touches on the last couple of dozen Think City electrics that would soon roll out the doors.

The production site, which according to rosy projections was to employ 400 workers and produce 20,000 vehicles a year, never fulfilled its promise. Now in its fourth bankruptcy, Think Global has been bought by a Russian investor who apparently has little interest in reviving Think's site in Indiana.

CBS casts the story of Think's demise as an Obama administration boondoggle. The project to move Think production to Indiana was fully supported by Republican Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who gushed with support of the maker of a tiny plastic-body EV. “We believe that the coming era of electric cars, like the Think City, will find its home here in Indiana,” he said.

Appearing in January 2010 at an event to promote the $237 million expansion of an Enerdel plant (that was to build batteries for Think), Daniels said, “I've always been an internal combustion guy, but I have been converted in every way to electric vehicles. They drive great, by the way."

In late 2010, asked Engle about critics who say that spending taxpayer dollars on electric cars—specifically small two-door EVs like the Think City—is not a good use of public money. Engle replied, “If 20 or 30 years from now, if we’re able to convert what is an existing industry that has all kind of social, economic and environmental impact, and if we’re able to replace that with something that is far friendlier in all those aspects, whether it’s our children or grandchildren, they’ll look back and say that was pretty cool. They will say that was money well spent.”

The movement towards vehicle electrification continues at a relatively brisk pace, but the marketplace is showing that the viability of vehicles with questionable consumer appeal, like the Think City, should not be exaggerated.

Dorinda Heiden-Guss heads up the local economic development effort in Elkhart, Ind. As she sees it, Think's quick fate was mostly dictated by lack of public interest. "The market has not been what everybody anticipated it to be with electric vehicles," says Heiden-Guss. "You can hope for a lot of things. What reality is is something different oftentimes."

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