The Obama administration likes to say that its “investment” of taxpayer dollars in electric cars is helping America build a foundation to compete in the new global auto race, but the Energy Department’s bet looks more like a house of cards. The latest Ace turned Joker is the Think electric car plant in Indiana — owned by a bankrupt, government-funded, Norwegian-based electric car company.
That bankruptcy is a key reason Think Global supplier Ener1 — the Energy Department-supported battery maker — went bankrupt last month to follow Solyndra and Beacon Power into the government Hall of Shame.
The idled plant in Elkhart, Indiana (with 100 tiny Think electrics sitting unfinished), is more evidence of Big Government’s bad bets — and the fact that such bets are bipartisan. Think and Ener1 had received millions not only in federal incentives but also in state dollars from Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels.
“We’ve said we’re out to make Indiana the electric vehicle state. It’s beginning to look like the state capital will be Elkhart County,” Daniels said a year ago when brokering state taxpayers into the battery boondoggle business.
Incredibly, the feds and Daniels invested in this boondoggle despite Think’s checkered history and four — count ‘em, FOUR — bankruptcies.
Indeed, Ford first brought Think to the U.S. in 2000 with a splashy debut at the Detroit Auto Show, showcasing it as the city car of the future. But Ford quickly offloaded the Norwegian boat anchor in 2003 after which it has flirted with crony capitalists from GE to Tesla who helped secure enough government grants to keep it alive.
A quick look at the Think’s specs and it’s apparent that taxpayers are being taken for suckers. The Think is a two-seater no bigger than a Smart car with a top speed of 65 mph and a price tag of — wait for it — $38,000 (before the federal $7,500 tax credit, natch).
That’s a deal only a government could love.
“Where’s the value?” Gregg Fore, an Elkhart recreational-vehicle-industry executive, told the Chicago Tribune. “I could buy a golf cart for five grand if that’s what I wanted to drive.”
How much Think has cost taxpayers is unknown as Indiana’s Economic Development Corp. and Ener1 insist that the funding is confidential despite its public origin. What is known is that EnerDel, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ener1 had already burned through $55 million if a $118 DOE grant in making batteries for the little tin can.
For now, Think is dead in the water. At least until it finds another government sucker.