Think Picks Indiana for Electric Car Plant

Think North America — a joint venture between Norwegian electric vehicle maker Think Global and U.S. venture firms Rockport Capital Partners and Kleiner Perkins — has just named Elkhart, Indiana as the location for its first U.S. manufacturing facility. According to a release from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which helped lure the project with approval of an incentive package worth more than $3 million, Think plans to invest some $43.5 million improving and equipping the Elkhart plant, and expects to create more than 400 jobs in the area by 2013.

Late last year rumor had it that Indiana had snagged the project, which will be located a few hours’ drive from Think battery supplier Ener1 (s HEV). Think aims to build out capacity for more than 20,000 vehicles per year at the Elkhart facility. The location is a logical one for Think, given that Ener1 subsidiary EnerDel will be manufacturing batteries for Think in Hoosier state.

As Bob Kanode, CEO of battery maker Valence Technologies explained to us last year, vehicle battery packs are heavy and long-distance shipping costs add up. If Think is going to hit in the ballpark of its revised target to produce a $30,000 vehicle (that’s after incentives — up from a previous goal to keep the price below $25,000), it has to keep those costs down.

Think’s compact electric City started rolling off the assembly lines last month at Finland’s Valmet Automotive — an investor and strategic industrial partner that helped rescue Think from the financial brink. But whether and how Think manages to follow through on its plans for Elkhart and finance the project remains to be seen.

The company’s request for funding under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program is “active,” according to today’s announcement, but like so many startups pinning hopes on a shrinking pile of DOE funds, it has yet to receive a final answer. As Think CEO Richard Canny told the Green Inc. blog today, “Our plan is based around the DOE loan…If that didn’t happen we would be looking at a slower and shallower investment plan.”

Photos courtesy of Think