"Th!nk" North America decides on Elkhart for new facility

The so-called “Comeback County” today scored a big economic victory.

Elkhart County no longer ‘thinks’ that an electric vehicle manufacturer could be bringing hundreds of new jobs to town: it knows so.

Officials from a Norway based company called TH!NK today announced that they were establishing their first-ever North American production plant in the City of Elkhart.

Last month, TH!NK had its sights set on a location near Middlebury, but those plans changed.

Production at the Elkhart plant should start in early 2011 after the building receives some $43 million worth of improvements and equipment.

Plans call for creating 415 new jobs at the TH!NK plant in Elkhart by 2013.

“It’s all electric so that means its very cheap to operate,” said TH!NK C.E.O. Richard Canny. “It’s roughly about two cents a mile to operate, there’s no regular maintenance that you have to do with the car, so no oil changes, no air filters, and oil filters to change. And basically you just drive it and then plug it in every night.”

The TH!NK City is a two seat model that can travel up to 100 miles on a single charge.

Today, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore had a chance to test drive the TH!NK City. It was his first time behind the wheel of any all-electric vehicle.

“It’s going to catch on, I don’t have any concern about the growth of this company whatsoever,” said Mayor Moore.

In referring to the TH!NK City Mayor Moore concluded,” it’s tried, it’s proven, it’s not somebody’s dream or concept.”

Fact it, TH!NK has actually been around for some 19-years. Back in the year 2000 TH!NK was owned by the Ford Motor Company, and attempts were made to introduce the car in New York and California. The TH!NK brand was spun off by Ford in 2003.

Now, TH!NK thinks things are different. Canny believes the technology has matured. “Electric vehicles have been somewhat of a novelty or somewhat in a development phase and now they’re really going to kind of mainstream production.”

For instance, the current TH!NK City has a top speed of 70-miles per hour. “I fully expect within about 10 years by and large most of the vehicles we drive will be either partially or fully electric in some form.”

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is also excited about the potential of the electric vehicle: “400 new jobs are exciting no matter what they are, but that they’re here in the comeback county of Indiana and most especially they are in an area of potentially explosive growth, this could redefine transportation.”

While today’s announcement meant that the TH!NK plant finally became a reality for Elkhart and Elkhart County, some couldn’t help but dream about the vehicle’s role in the transportation needs of the future.

“You can see with the way costs are for petroleum for a gallon of gas, how that has varied over the years, what you have here is an electric vehicle that doesn’t use gasoline that you simply plug in at night that costs two cents a mile to run,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Donnelly. “It’s going to be a win-win, a great product, good for our environment, good for our national security, and good for our economy.”

With today’s announcement, Elkhart County perhaps came a step closer to becoming the electric vehicle capital of the U.S.

In August, President Barrack Obama came to Wakarusa to announce that electric delivery trucks would be built at the Navistar plant there.

TH!NK has applied for a loan from the federal stimulus package to promote advanced technology vehicles, but Canny says the Elkhart project will move forward with our without the assistance.

“I think the size and speed is dependant on the assistance we get through the federal loan program with the U.S. Department of Energy,” said Canny, “But in our case, given that we’ve already got a vehicle on the market and already in production in Europe today, it’s kind of easier to get started in the U.S. even if we didn’t have that loan.”

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