Sunday, May 13, 2001

Ford thinks electric car's time has arrived

By Ed Garsten
The Associated Press

        As gasoline prices soar nationwide, Ford Motor Co. is hoping consumers might give serious thought to its latest line of electric vehicles, the TH!NK.

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        The world's No.2 automaker earlier this month said the electric vehicles would be available this fall at Ford dealerships in selected markets nationwide, but mainly in California, Arizona and Florida.

        The first TH!NK model to be sold will be the “Neighbor,” Ford spokesman Brendon Prebo said. It's a golf cart-like vehicle equipped with a windshield, seat belts, lights, brake lights and meets government crash-test criteria for low-speed vehicles.

        Neighbor's top speed is just 25 mph, according to Mr. Prebo, and can travel about 30 miles on a charge.

        With a snail's speed and limited range, TH!NK is not designed to replace the family car, but it is aimed primarily at residents of gated communities who might otherwise tool around the lightly traveled streets within their confines in golf carts, Mr. Prebo said.

        Ford also is looking at TH!NK as a low-cost introduction to electric vehicles for other consumers as well.

        While exact pricing has yet to be set, Mr. Prebo said, the TH!NK Neighbor will probably start at about $6,000.

        Consumers thus far have been cool to electric vehicles. Sales of the EV-1 electric coupe by General Motors Corp. in California were disappointing, and no other major automakers have attempted to sell electric vehicles in the mass market.

        So far, government agencies and utility companies have been the primary purchasers of electric vehicles, using them to shuttle between buildings or for meter readers.

        Consumer reluctance has mainly been based on the short driving range of electric vehicles between charges, typically 65 to 100 miles, and the need in some cases for the installation of special battery recharging systems that can cost several hundred dollars.

        “The well-known resistance to electric vehicles will still be there,” said Michael Flynn, Director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan.

        But, he said, the real significance of Ford's marketing of TH!NK vehicles is that the company and its dealers will earn valuable experience in selling electric vehicles and getting buyers “accustomed to Ford being an electric vehicle company.”

        In 2002, Ford plans to sell the more substantial TH!NK City in the United States. Already on the market in Europe, the vehicle is a street-legal, two-seat, front-wheel-drive vehicle with a top speed of 56 mph and a range of 53 miles. TH!NK City is equipped with driver's-side air bags and seat belts.
       @PhCred1:The Associated Press/CARLOS OSORIO
       @PhCap1:As gasoline prices soar, Ford Motor Co. is hoping consumers will think the TH!NK is the thing to drive. One version of the electric car goes 25 mph and travels 30 miles on a charge. Another, coming in 2002, will hit 56 mph.


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