Kleiner, RockPort Bringing Think to U.S., Cheaper Than the Prius

Cleantech investors Kleiner Perkins and RockPort Capital Partners are thinking U.S. consumers will be interested in a mainstream electric vehicle that is cheaper than the Prius. The duo announced today that they have decided to create a joint venture with one of their investments, Norwegian company Think Global, to create Think North America, which will sell electric cars (beginning with the Think City) stateside.

At the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Pasadena, Calif., this morning, Kleiner’s Ray Lane, RockPort’s Wilber James, and Think Global CEO Jan-Olaf Willums made the announcement. The firms were quiet on many of the details, but said that the joint venture will first offer “hundreds” of Think City cars to fleets (such as those operated by utilities) later this year, before it plans to start selling a couple thousand cars to consumers next year — for less than the cost of a Prius, or under $25,000; eventually the venture plans to scale up production to sell cars at the rate of 30,000 to 40,000 per year.

Kleiner and Rockport own 50 percent of the venture, while Think Global will hold the remaining 50 percent, the firms said. Neither Lane nor James would comment on how much the firms would invest in the joint venture.

Kleiner’s Ray Lane explained the opportunity as:

“Most electric vehicles being developed today are coming off the design board or getting manufactured, or starting to get test vehicles on the road. This is ready for mass production.”

RockPort’s James noted that the firms won’t just act as passive investors:

Being venture capitalists, we’re on the cutting edge of new battery technology, drivetrain technologies, and there will be an evolution of this car over the year. We’re actively involved in the process of rolling this out in North America.

Ray Lane thinks the size of the car will appeal to mainstream consumers: “The first thing you’ll notice is the space inside,” and he compared the Think City to the Toyota Yaris or Volkswagon Beetle. “Don’t think about this as being a Smart Car, which is frightening in terms of its size.”

Lane also is aiming at the jugular of the Prius and said: “Expect that we could also look at the hybrid market place; it doesn’t have to remain only battery.”