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Power Toys Technology

Small Electric Car May Usher In Big Changes 575

An anonymous reader sends us to a profile in on a Norwegian car company that is building a compact, plug-in electric car, the Think City, that will go on sale in Europe early next year. It could hit US markets in 2009. The CEO is working with Silicon Valley VCs and with Google, Tesla Motors, PG&E, and Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway. Plans are to sell the car only on the Web. No dealers, cheap manufacturing plants, and a battery pack that you lease, not buy — there's potential here for shaking up the auto industry the way Dell did PCs.
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Small Electric Car May Usher In Big Changes

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  • "Not a car" (Score:3, Informative)

    by jonoton ( 804262 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:18AM (#20054629)
    In europe these vehicles are not classified as cars and as such do not have to subject themselves to the Euro NCAP.

    Recently Top Gear magazine paid for one of these to be subject to the most basic testing - the results were pretty horrific.

  • Re:"Not a car" (Score:3, Informative)

    by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:37AM (#20054731) Homepage
    That may change by next year. The entire quadricycle loophole may be removed. The horrific results of the test have put the wheels of the Eurocracy in motion. It may take a while for them to start moving, but it is nearly impossible to stop them once they do.

    The reason for the horrific tests results for the Wizz was a horrible design. It is not something that is specific to electric cars in particular. The pseudoengeneers from one well known country who designed the Wizz have built it around the battery. The battery neatly slots under the seats and carries most of the kinetic energy with it. From there on the car shell cannot sustain structural integrity in the crash. This is broken by design. It is also trivial to solve by making the battery and/or drive train free floating in a manner similar to the one used in modern car designs. In that case in the event of the crash it detaches itself and the chassis "climbs" on top of it. As a result it no longer needs to absorb all the kinetic energy carried in it.

    The consumer has generally wizened up and if a car that has publically failed safety tests it is most likely going to see abissmal sales even if selling it is still legal due to a loophole in the law.
  • Re:Carbon Free? (Score:4, Informative)

    by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:04AM (#20054857) Journal
    You're forgetting two things.

    First, this car is produced in Norway, where the overwhelming majority of power is generated by hydro-electric plants.

    Secondly, the manufacturer was bought out by a company that specialices in solar energy.

    So yes, it makes perfect sence for them to talk about a 'carbon free' car. Off course, the marketing blurb, reality in Norway and reality in [country of your choice] isn't always the same thing...
  • Right, Sherlock. (Score:3, Informative)

    by zeromorph ( 1009305 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:15AM (#20054915)

    The price is actually from Germany. That's where I saw a Gas station this morning, now I'm in the Netherlands and here it's more around $1.90 or $2.00 for a liter.

    For an international price list take a look at this [] (prices in EURO).

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:15AM (#20054917) Homepage Journal

    In a city like LA where people often live pretty far out from where they work, it just isn't feasible.

    How much of the driving in LA is at slow speed in heavy traffic? Under those conditions a petrol engine will be less efficient, and an electric drive line will be more efficient.

  • Strawman argument. (Score:5, Informative)

    by nietsch ( 112711 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:42AM (#20055037) Homepage Journal
    these vehicles are not the same as the vehicle that the article is about. It is not about to go on sale this year or the next. There is nothing that you can order yet, so there is nothing you can crash test. The test was with a totally different vehicle. If one SUV did bad in a crash test (like killing some bystanding dummies that were not even in the test), does that make all SUVs bad? (well OK, SUV are still bad, but for other reasons).
    Some other poster pointed out your strawman is called g-wiz(made in India), which is a different vehicle ,made in different factory. Or are all electric vehicles the same?
  • Email from Think (Score:5, Informative)

    by meador ( 618932 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:08AM (#20055185)
    I emailed Think with a few questions after they announced their battery pack deal with Tesla.
    Here's the text:

    Dear xxx,

    Thank you for your e-mail and interest in Think!

    Think is currently in the process of preparing the new TH!NK city for production in the fall of 2007. The new TH!NK city meets all US and European homologation and safety requirements. It has a range of 110 miles, a top speed of over 60 mph and has comfort and convenience features you would expect of a normal car such as, A/C, electric windows, mirrors, etc.

    Due to production capacity limitation and a desire to become very visible in the markets we enter, we will sell exclusively in Norway and the UK in 2007 and the first few months of 2008. Unfortunately, I am unable to confirm the timing of a US launch.

    About your questions:

    1) How many miles / years will the batter pack last? --> 7 to 10 for Norway
    2) Can the top speed governer be altered? (Part of my daily commute is on the highway) --> NO
    3) Do you have any plans to bring the Think back to the US? --> YES
    4) What is the cost of the car and cost for the replacement battery pack? --> Not yet known for USA, in Norway 200.000 NOK

    I have added your name to our list of interested parties and we'll send you information on prices and launch dates as they become available. Please contact me if you have any further questions. For more information please visit our website:

    Thanks for your interest and all best.

    Kind regards

    Alejandra Hagbartsen
    Market assistant


    Sandakerveien 24
    0473 Oslo

    Tel: +47 23 40 84 04
    Mob: +47 993 88 329
  • Re:Carbon Free? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Bazar ( 778572 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:09AM (#20055195)

    I'm not sure how shipping in different parts from all corners of the world necessarily helps the 'carbon-free' thing either. Basically, my thinking is that until electricity supplies are all (or at least mostly) from renewable and sustainable sources then a small electric car is no more or less environmentally friendly than say a small diesel car.
    There was a BBC documentary, about the death of the electric car. It went on about how the state of California, in its (now dead) initiative for electric cars, had worked out that even if the electric cars were fueled from the power generated from COAL, including the loss of power from the distribution grid. It'd still be more carbon friendly then burning petrol in a combustion engine.

    The potential for a electric car to revolutionize the transit world is tremendous, but the oil companies, as do traditional the car manufacturers have a vested interest in not seeing it happen.

    If you want to know more about the history of the eletric car, and the state of californa, and even the future of the eletric car, i'd STRONGLY advise you to watch

    Chris Paine's 2006 documentary: Who Killed The Electric Car?
  • Re:"Not a car" (Score:2, Informative)

    by tom17 ( 659054 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:17AM (#20055245) Homepage

    Sure, you're doing 30mph, car coming towards you is doing 30mph, closing speed of 60?

    If both cars are equal weight and the collision is straight-on, they will both experience a deceleration from 30mph to 0mph. Exactly the same as if they each hit a wall at 30mph.
    Only if they have identical energy absorbing crumple zones. Well, identical in that they absorb the energy at the same rate per distance/time of crumpling.
  • Re:Carbon Free? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:34AM (#20055347) Journal
    A small, efficient electric car even powered by conventional electricity sources will be pretty efficient.
    Unlike the diesel, it doesn't have to idle when stopped. Unlike the diesel, it can use regenerative braking and not waste energy to slow down. Unlike the diesel, one huge powerplant is much more efficient than lots of very small powerplants (our local power station, a combined cycle gas turbine which uses any remaining waste heat to heat the nearby swimming pool has a pretty amazing thermal efficiency - I think with the combined heat and power it's starting to push 80%)
  • Re:Clueless (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:45AM (#20055415) Journal
    Really? Most Americans I know have at least two (if not more!) vehicles - for example, a normal car, a giant SUV and a pickup. The normal car is used for nothing but the man's commuting. The wife uses the giant SUV and the pickup gets taken on camping trips. So at least one of the vehicles is a "unitasker" already.

    When I lived in Houston, I was quite unusual amongst my friends having only one vehicle.
  • Re:Big Changes, huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:18AM (#20055681) Homepage Journal
    Re-read the article. $34K is the planned retail price for the car in Norway including the battery, not the price of the battery alone. The other price is excluding the battery which you will then lease instead.

    And for Europe the price isn't bad, particularly as many countries have lower taxes for electric cars. Most people commute short distances where speed is limited anyway (I'd challenge anyone to try to get anywhere near top speed with this car in London during rush hour - average speed is between 10 and 15 mph), and so the limitations of this car means very little to most people. Since gas is more expensive here too, it can be economical at quite a higher price point than in the US.

  • Things are different in Europe. Here in Sweden there is a pretty heavy environmental tax on gas, so the price is roughly $1.60/litre. I only commute by car twice a week, and still I have gas costs of upwards to $200/month. With a new car for $15,000, and a battery lease for $150/month - I'd be lowering my costs significantly, while being able to commute every day (saving rougly 1,5 hours/day). I'd also avoid the congestion charges as a bonus.

    All in all, this seems to be aimed at the European market.
  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:39AM (#20055899)
    VW's Toureg can already get up to 25 MPG, real world. Semi trucks can see 7-8 MPG, as good as a Hummer and they're actually pulling a load.

    Diesel is going to make a bigger impact that hybrids in the coming years.
  • Re:"Not a car" (Score:2, Informative)

    by tomatensaft ( 661701 ) <> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:50AM (#20055993)
    Hey, cowboy, it's not Texas, it's Europe we're talking about! Nobody will ram your car off the street just like that!
  • Re:It's not a fee (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @09:04AM (#20056129) Homepage Journal

    Keep in mind that this car is produced in Norway where prices for cars and gas/fuel is very high.
    Um... so? Keep in mind that the article points out an attempt to target an AMERICAN market.

    Right now it's about 11 NOK for 1 metric liter. There is 3,785 metric liters in one gallon, so that makes one gallon cost aprox. $7,3

    And at an estimate of $7.3 per gallon, you can expect to get about 27 gallons of gas for the same cost of the estimated $200/month "battery fee" (not counting the cost of electricity). With a very conservative estimate on a gas-car, you can expect 30 mpg -- or over 800 miles for about the same cost. That gas-car in the US would most likely run less than this thing, too.

    You'll need to travel more than 800 miles a month to make this thing cost effective at $7.3 per gallon for gas. Far more, if you calculate an economy car which gets closer to 40 mpg... In the US, with gas at ~$3 gallon -- I just don't see me using this to travel over 1300 miles a month to save "gas money"...
  • Re:Clueless (Score:3, Informative)

    by StrawberryFrog ( 67065 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @09:09AM (#20056195) Homepage Journal
    Tiny cars don't sell well. ... most americans

    That's why a European company is doing this. In Europe. Where small cars sell.
  • Only about 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas and need to drive twenty miles to the shops (which, incidentally, is well within the round-trip range of these vehicles).
  • Economies Of Scale (Score:2, Informative)

    by wjcofkc ( 964165 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @11:38AM (#20058205)
    Really big lithium ion batteries are not exactly common. When was the last time you bought one? Lesser scale production equals higher production costs which then equals a higher cost to the consumer. Just like we have seen with the computer industry, as the demand of PCs increased, manufactures of PC components went to greater production scale and greater production sale to meet the demand of computer manufacturers who now paid less for mass produced parts who then in turn past the savings onto the consumer.

    Greater demand for and larger scale production of these batteries must come before the prices can drop significantly.

  • Re:Clueless (Score:3, Informative)

    by *weasel ( 174362 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @11:53AM (#20058483)

    There isn't much of a difference.

    The problem is that there is.

    American residential lots are bigger and mixed commercial/residential areas don't really exist in suburbia.
    The practical differences of all that space are much larger than you're giving them credit for.

    We can't walk anywhere. We don't have mass transit worth a damn. So we drive. Everywhere. And even we don't like all this driving, so we combine trips. Alot. Can a mini get an adult, two kids and groceries back and forth? Sure. But not when you throw in football/hockey equipment and/or an instrument or two, and/or a couple bags of softener salt, and/or a dog or two, and/or a couple bags from clothes shopping, and/or school supply shopping and/or a couple week's worth of non-perishables and maybe some dry cleaning. Even in a full-size sedan mixing two or three of those trips will be a squeeze at least a couple times a month.

    Sure, we could split those trips up and still use a sedan comfortably. But who the hell wants to? The shops are all on one end of town, and your house on the other. You'd wind up burning even more gas and time going back and forth. And it's not like suburban shopping is itself an enjoyable diversion, as it might be in a city with sane zoning laws.

    The landscape is cut up, the destinations separated by space, concrete barriers and often pedestrian-hostile traffic-flow. So we Drive. Park. Shop. Load up. Drive to the next store. Repeat. It's another one of those reasons we get head-scratchers like indoor malls, strip malls and giant one-stop behemoths -- all built around our annoyance with our own suburban zoning and our propensity to combine trips.

    We also have an outdoor/roadtrip culture that sees the family + luggage + recreational gear jumping in the car and driving a couple hundred miles a few times a year. (Skiing/snowmobiling/fishing/camping/etc). Not even full-size sedans are really suited to that task -- which is why the station wagons sprung up shortly after American suburbia exploded. As style changed, mini-vans replaced station wagons and now most SUVs are just 'more stylish' wagons or minivans.

    But its not like they're buying an Escalade instead of a Camry. 90% are buying the SUV because they're in mini-van-denial.
    As previously noted: most American families have more than one vehicle, and in the vast majority of cases they have a reasonable sedan too. We just move around enough junk, often enough, that the alternatives make less sense than having an SUV.
  • by jpatters ( 883 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @02:13PM (#20060681)
    It's funny, every time details about some "cutting edge" idea or business model surface, this forum (which used to be populated with physicists, engineers, and geeks of all stripes) piles on with their own particular angle on why it won't work.

    Far be it from me to stick a pin in your nostalgia, but slashdot has never been any different, really. And in this case, we're right, this product has "going nowhere" written all over it.
  • Metallurgy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2007 @03:43AM (#20067779)
    I started my R&D career in a company which probably knew more about the use of aluminium for automotive use than anybody else in the world at the time. During the first Middle East oil crisis the economists looked at the prospects for energy saving by a switch to Al for engines and other parts and concluded that the US economy could not afford a change in the necessary timescale. The reason is quite simple. There is actually so much steel in the world that the US (and much of Europe) is basically self sufficient in steel. We do not really need to make very much more. However, a widespread conversion to aluminium would involve refining huge amounts of the metal from ore. The energy used to make Al is many times greater than for steel, because (put simply) aluminium is a trivalent and high energy atom which is extracted by an inefficient electrolytic process, while steel is made from a less energetic transition metal using a very efficient thermal process.

    So, while you are correct in that aluminium can be recycled, a widespread conversion would involve making an awful lot of it.

    There is a subsidiary issue, unfortunately. It is very easy to convert steel from one alloy to another, e.g. recycled mild steel can be used as the basis for inox, but a small quantity of inox in a steel melt will not harm the resulting alloy. However, there are many aluminium alloys which vary in content for specific purposes (copper in aircraft alloys, magnesium in many car parts.) Recycling of aluminium requires a lot of metallurgical intervention to get the desired resulting alloy. Other than the pure Al used in cans, there is currently no recycling scheme to distinguish alloys. With steel, this is not really an issue. Aluminium alloys can contain copper, magnesium, zinc etc., and contamination of an alloy with the wrong metal will affect the ability to heat treat it, corrosion resistance etc. So while it is possible to, say, recycle cans into auto wheels or aircraft, it is not possible to recycle auto wheels into cans. Recycling aluminium is NOT trivial.

    Believe me, I have sat in on very heated exchanges between aluminium and steel metallurgists - two of them once came close to blows in a meeting with Government representatives present - on this precise issue.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford