Think starts production of electric vehicles in Elkhart

Think has started making two-seat electric cars at its plant in northern Indiana and expects the first completed ones to roll off the production line in the coming days.

Think North America spokesman Brendan Prebo told that the company plans to roll out 300 electric cars from the plant before the end of the year. The company originally planned to start making electric vehicles at the Elkhart factory in early 2011.

The original plan also called for the first Think City electric vehicles for the U.S. market to be made in Finland, but that changed. "Part of it, we just wanted to give some experience building electric cars in Elkhart," Prebo said. "We saw it was possible and feasible to do that. We decided to pull ahead with production in Elkhart."

At present, the Finland plant partially builds the electric cars, putting the body and wheels on the chassis, then ships them to Elkhart. Once they arrive in the United States, the so-called gliders are loaded into a semi-truck and delivered on wood pallets.

The Elkhart crew begins its work by inserting the lithium-ion battery, made by EnerDel in Indianapolis, Turner said. Next they put in the motor and gearbox, followed by the seats, headlights and other components.

As production ramps up, each electric car will take about a week to complete — two to three days to assemble and an equal number of days to test, Turner said. Every day a total of 20 electric cars will be finished.

By June of next year, Turner hopes to switch the manufacturing process in Elkhart from adding parts to actually building the electric vehicles from the ground up with as many U.S. supplied components as possible.

Local companies have been able to provide small items like nuts and bolts and adhesives, Turner said. And many of the businesses that supply the RV industry, have products that are a "good fit" with the Think City.

Manufacturing director Karl Turner says the company hopes to make 2,000 to 3,000 electric vehicles with lithium ion batteries next year.

Turner says the plant has 11 employees now and plans to have 25 by the end of the year. When the plant is in full production in 2013, the plant will have 400 employees.

 Workers in Elkhart install the lithium-ion battery, the motor and gearbox, the seats, headlights and other components. "We’re very confident in these electric vehicles. They’ve been running around in Europe for a long time," he said.