Electric vehicle bet a bust for Indiana

State's gamble on Think cars is cautionary tale
March 8, 2012 12:01 am

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ELKHART, Ind. -- For politicians betting on electric vehicles to drive job growth, the view from inside Think City's plant here is their worst nightmare: 100 unfinished vehicles lined up with no word whether they will be completed.

Only two years ago the tiny Think cars -- two can fit in a regular parking space -- were expected to bring more than 400 jobs to this ailing city and act as a lifeline to suppliers who once made parts for gas-guzzling recreational vehicles.

"We've said we're out to make Indiana the electric vehicle state," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in January 2010 in announcing government incentives used to lure Think to his state.

Instead, the Hoosier state's big bet has been a bust. The plant is devoid of activity; there are just two employees. A Russian investor who recently purchased Think's bankrupt parent in Norway has been silent about its future. A government-backed Indianapolis battery maker that was to supply Think wrote off a $73 million investment in the car company and has declared bankruptcy. Two unrelated electric truck makers Indiana planned to nurture have yet to get off the ground.

Indiana's foray into electric vehicles is a cautionary tale for states in hot pursuit of high-tech manufacturing jobs. Think's story illustrates how politicians so badly wanted to stimulate job growth that they showered it and the battery supplier with tax breaks and incentives while at the same time failing to determine whether there was a market for the car: a plastic two-seater with a top speed of about 65 miles an hour and a price tag approaching $42,000.

"Where's the value?" Gregg Fore, an Elkhart recreational vehicle industry executive, said of Think. "I could buy a golf cart for five grand if that's what I wanted to drive."

Indiana's total losses aren't immediately known. Katelyn Hancock, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state's economic development arm, declined to disclose how much battery maker Ener1 and Think had received in taxpayer-funded credits and incentives, claiming such information is confidential. Ener1 also refused to provide the information.


First Published 2012-03-07 23:45:02

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