On Monday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, Think launched its North American operation with Silicon Valley venture capitalist heavyweight Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Boston’s Rockport Capital Partners as lead investors.
Think North America will sell the Think City, its two-seater battery-powered car, as well as a forthcoming five-seater called the Think Ox.
“We thought this would be a wonderful vehicle to bring to the U.S.,” said Kleiner partner Ray Lane. He’ll serve as chairman of Think North America, which will be a 50-50 joint venture between Think and Kleiner/Rockport. They declined to put a price tag on the investment but Lane said “we’ll invest what it takes.”
The Think City began rolling off the production line in Norway earlier this year and Think already has announced it will sell the car in France, the U.K. and Scandinavia. With its current battery, the City can go about 110 miles on a charge at a top speed of around 62 miles an hour. Lane said Think North America aims to sell the car in the U.S. market for less than a Toyota (TM) Prius, which retails for around $25,000. Batteries being developed by Think’s partners A123Systems in collaboration with General Electric (GE) will boost the range and top speed, Willums has noted.
“This is not just a one-off kind of deal,” says Rockport’s Wilber James, who is serving as Think North America’s president while a CEO search is underway. “Being venture capitalists, we’re on the cutting edge in battery technology. We’re not just passive investors; we’re very active in this company.”
Think CEO Jan Olaf-Willums, who appeared on stage with Lane and James, said he hopes to sell a few thousand cars next year — starting in California — and then ramp up to 30,000 cars. “We can put assembly plants anywhere in six months,” said Willums, referring to Think’s $10 million modular factories.
James and Lane seemed taken with the little electric. “I had the privilege of sitting in back of the City while Ray Lane drove the car with Jan-Olaf through the streets of Geneva,” said James. “It’s a fun car to drive.”
Green Wombat can confirm that. I drove a Think City last year when I visited Willums in Norway for a story I wrote for Business 2.0 magazine. The stylish two-seater with the roof-to-bumper glass hatch accelerates like a sports cars, thanks to the instant transmission of power from the electric motor to the wheels.
Willums brought two Thinks – one a sporty orange convertible, the other a black coupe — to Pasadena. “That will be a big seller in Los Angeles,” Lane told Green Wombat as a crowd gathered around the cabriolet in the Southern California sunshine outside the Langham hotel in Pasadena.
Since I drove the City last, it’s been been upgraded with an interactive, Internet-enabled touchscreen. The City will sync with your home computer, download your schedule, your shopping list and monitor your battery usage and driving habits, according to Dipender Saluja, whose Silicon Valley startup, Automatik, is developed the the technology to create what Willums calls a “computer on wheels.” The onboard system is designed to communicate with a smart utility grid so that the owner can be charged or credited for the electricity consumed or returned back to the grid from the car’s battery.
On Monday, I got behind the wheel of the Think City that sported a large sunroof and took a quick spin around the hotel grounds with Willums. Version 2.0 of the car was a more refined iteration of the pre-production car I drove last year in Norway but still a blast to drive.