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Norway's Think EV Adds U.S. Board Members, GM Connection

Think, the European battery car maker, will soon be speaking Norwegian with an unmistakable American accent. The company, once an arm of Ford, has some $47 million in new investment (partly from American investors) and, after it conquers Asia and Europe, an ambitious U.S. expansion plan.

Think emerged from the Norwegian form of bankruptcy just last week. The U.S. battery company Ener1 (which supplies cells to Fisker and the Japanese postal service, and has a research partnership with Nissan) will now own 31 percent of Think, and occupy two seats of the five-seat Think board.

Charles Gassenheimer, the company's voluble CEO, will take one seat, and another, BNET Autos has learned, goes to a famous name among EV watchers: Ken Baker. As program manager of GM Electric Vehicles, Baker (who retired in 1999) was a key quarterback of the GM EV-1, the first major manufacturer EV in the modern era. Although only 600 EV-1s were leased, the car was hugely influential in greening the auto industry. Baker, who is also on the board of advisors of domestic EV company Coda, was the first chairman of the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (which funded Ener1's lithium-ion batteries).

Ener1 is making an $18 million equity commitment to Think. According to Gassenheimer, Ener1 had previously provided $3 million as an emergency bridge loan, and that loan will be converted into convertible preferred shares of Think and consolidated at Ener1 Inc. as part of the 31 percent stake. Other Think investors include Finland's Valmet Automotive (an arm of engineering firm Metso), which will also produce the Think City going forward, and Investinor, a venture firm with backing from the Norwegian government. Valmet also produces cars for Porsche, will build the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid and the luxurious Garia golf cart ("more than just a golf car.").

Gassenheimer says that Think is "like a phoenix rising out of the ashes," with its City electric car benefiting from $300 million in investment (including $150 million from Ford circa 1999 to 2003). Think's short-term focus will be on Europe, and expansion is also aimed at Asia (including supplying Think drivetrains with Ener1 battery packs to convert Japanese postal vans). Gassenheimer estimates that 30 to 40 percent of Think revenue could eventually come from China.

U.S. manufacturing plans hinge in part on the success of a Department of Energy loan application (amount unspecified). EnerDel, a battery-making arm of Ener1, recently received $118 million in a related DOE grant program.

Think is working on a new business plan for the DOE that Gassenheimer says will include "demonstrating viability and showing that we have a management team that can deliver a shovel-ready product." He describes the City, which will get a larger electric motor and freeway-friendly 70-mph capability for the U.S. market, as "more road-ready than the Tesla," with stability and balance resulting from a mid-vehicle battery location. "We need to do a much better job of telling the Think story," said Gassenheimer.