It says something about the state of the electric car that this August, Ford wrestled its Th!nk cars away from grieving lessees to take to a crusher in Florida, while ZAP (Zero Air Pollution), the electric car and scooter company in Santa Rosa, began offering a gasoline car. No, not even a hybrid—a gasoline-fueled car, albeit a fuel-efficient model made by DaimlerChrysler, called the Smart car.
Funerals were held to mourn the passing of the little Th!nks, product of a Norwegian company Ford bought in 1999 for $23 million. Citing no demand, Ford gave up on the electrics. A response from a saddened Hollywood owner published in the English-language version of Oslo’s daily newspaper, the Aftenposten: “The reason US carmakers are suppressing electric vehicles is that they are less profitable& It is more profitable for a US company to sell a small gasoline car than an electric car. So the electric is simply not offered&.”
The plot is even thicker: Ford bought the Th!nks because California’s Air Resources Board had mandated that 10 percent of a company’s vehicles must be non-polluting by 2003, and only electrics fit the bill. When the state was forced by industry lawsuits to extend the deadline and add hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles to the mix, the Th!nks became dead metal, and so did GM, Toyota, and Honda’s electrics.
But the zippy machines may still win the war: California rewrote its legislation and the automakers dropped their suits; other states are following California’s lead; and the idea of neighborhood electric vehicles is gaining ground. Sure, they take an hour to charge, but if you plug in at night, who cares? The little vehicles are already powering up and down the Strip in Las Vegas, and they’re equally well-suited to college campuses, planned communities, or in-town driving of most sorts.
Sentimentalists will be glad to hear that Ford has reversed itself again. The 350 Th!nks will be sent back to a good home in Norway, not to the Florida scrapper. And ZAP just announced that it intends to retrofit its Smart cars with a new fuel cell that runs on hydrogen converted from ammonia. Perhaps we’re plugging on all circuits at last.•t