Norway electric carmaker to build in Indiana

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Norwegian electric car maker Think Global is gearing up to launch its vehicles in the United States and has picked a site in Indiana for its U.S. manufacturing facility, a major investor in the company said on Tuesday.

The exact location and other details will be announced in a few weeks, said Charles Gassenheimer, chairman and chief executive of lithium-ion battery maker Ener1 Inc HEV.O, which has a 31 percent stake in Think Global.

Think had said previously it was exploring the opportunity to launch its vehicles in the United States and was considering opening a new U.S. manufacturing plant and technical center.

Gassenheimer declined to give more details on Think’s plans in the U.S. market, but said the carmaker has applied for a U.S. government loan under a program set up to encourage production of fuel-efficient vehicles.

The loan application is in the initial stages, Gassenheimer said in an interview.

Ener1, which also has a battery supply agreement with Think, took a stake in the carmaker this year after the Norwegian company went on a fund-raising round to save itself and exit court protection.

U.S.-based Ener1 gave Think another lease on life by agreeing to invest about $18 million in three tranches and convert $3 million in debt into preferred shares of the automaker.

In the fund-raising round, Think received $47 million from a number of investors including Finnish Valmet Automotive, part of engineering firm Metso MEO1V.HE, and Norwegian government-backed investment fund Investinor.

Think will now relaunch its Think City all-electric vehicle, which can travel up to 112 miles on a single charge, in Europe with initial production of about 5,000 units, Gassenheimer said.

Small and large automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T and Ford Motor Co F.N, are racing to launch electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid versions in the United States.

“It’s the right time to launch in the U.S.,” Gassenheimer said.

Think has been in the electric car space since the 1990s but has changed owners and struggled for cash through the years.

It was formerly part of U.S. automaker Ford and its Think City electric car was produced after Ford took a major stake in 1999.

Ford invested $150 million in Think during its four years as an owner, according to Think website, but decided to pull out of the electric carmaker in 2003. Norwegian investors bought Think in 2006.

Future production of the Think City car will now be done by Valmet Automotive in Finland.

Think plans to produce 5,000 electric vehicles in Europe next year with the volume doubling by 2011, Gassenheimer added.

Reporting by Poornima Gupta, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Tim Dobbyn