A Household with multiple Electric Vehicles (EVs) – The 2011 Th!nk City in a 2012 LEAF Home
by: Dave Glotfelty
I have two new drivers in my family, and four drivers total. We recently purchased a 2012 Nissan LEAF (“Leaf”), which we love, but with other cars failing and new drivers in the house, it was time for another new car.
The 2012 Leaf that we bought in December 2011 has spoiled me. Although I am a big guy – six foot tall – I am still generally comfortable with small cars. The Leaf is bigger than a small car, and is technically in the midsize class – it’s very roomy, and I find it very comfortable and relaxing to drive. The Bluetooth, Navigation system, Charging Station Locator, and backup camera are all very useful tools and fun to play with. And best of all – there is NO GAS! I pay only about three cents per mile for electricity.
My family drives many miles and could really use a second EV, but another $30K for a second Leaf or a Chevy Volt was not in the cards. Fortunately, National Plug-In Day made me aware of a great alternative – The Th!nk City (“Think”)! The Think is a two-seater with a very roomy square hatchback area. The Think originally retailed at $33K, but the European parent company has been in and out of bankruptcy. As a result, the price on the 2011 Think has been cut to a fire-sale price of $23K, including tags. I live in Maryland, which has an excise (sales) tax credit waiving up to $2000 in sales tax on EVs. There is also the Federal tax credit of up to $7500. The bottom line is that after the fire-sale price and federal and state tax credits, a brand new 2011 Think cost me only $15,500! Fortunately, the Think U.S. subsidiary is still in business, and currently covering warranty issues. We decided that the low price made it worth the risk on manufacturer support.
Here is my review of the 2011 Think, with occasional comparisons to my 2012 Leaf.
Car Type – The Think is a two-seater subcompact with a very nice hatchback cargo area – 27 cubic ft. The hatchback area is large and very open, and has a large clear back window as the hatch. It is small outside, but very roomy inside. The car weighs 2350 lbs., with an added passenger/cargo payload of up to 445 lb. It is 10′ long, and has a 15′ turning radius on 14” alloy wheels. I find it a blast to drive; however, it is not a Japanese comfort vehicle like the Leaf.
Exterior – The shell is made of ABS matte plastic in nice colors – very distinctive, durable, and eco-friendly with built-in color. One of my favorite aspects about the Think is that it is scratch and dent resistant; I can pound on the car with no damage! I wish that all of my cars were made of this stuff, it’s very tough. I picked a red Think, and it has a Fisher-Price look which is fun. Other available colors include Light Blue and Black. The styling is European, which you may or may not like, but I prefer it compared to the Smart EV two-seater. The Think stands out in a fun way, and you will frequently find yourself answering questions at vehicle stops.
Interior – The interior of the Think is simple, attractive, functional, and colored in black. The steering wheel and seats are adjustable, and entry and exit is very easy. The overall interior look and feel is European, and reminiscent of IKEA– plain with easy to use controls, a parking brake, and a shifter. The car includes AC and a heater. Driving position is comfortable, with decent visibility. The large rear glass hatch provides excellent rearward visibility. Upward visibility is slightly restricted, and taller people such as myself may have difficulty seeing stoplights at a stop. To alleviate this problem, many owners are adding a small Fresnel lens stick on at the top of the windshield. Window switches are in the center front, which is unusual but reminiscent of other European makers such as SAAB. The cup holder placement is a bit strange but works OK. The unique keys (two are provided) have a built in remote for locking, unlocking, and popping the rear hatch.
Console and Displays – The console has gauges but no fancy electronics. There is a battery capacity gauge, which shows the percentage of battery capacity remaining and available for use. Another gauge indicates the amount of real-time energy used when driving, or recaptured during regenerative braking. There is no onboard Navigation unit, so I added a Garmin GPS. There is no charging station locator, but most phones can run a charging station locator app (such as PlugShare) to find plug-in stations. The Think stereo is a Sony CDXGT700HD with CD, HD radio and a USB plug for iPods or other USB-based music devices. Unfortunately, there is no glovebox, but in its place there is an incidentals tray, and good access to fuses. The rear cargo bay has nets on the sides and an under floor compartment for keeping valuables out of sight.
Compared to the Think, the Leaf has much more detailed information regarding a variety of metrics, including power output, energy captured during regeneration, estimated range (which is usually a bit – sometimes wildly – off), and miles per kWh. I prefer the Leaf instantaneous power bubble display (power output / recaptured) to the Think needle gauge, which has a small display range. The Leaf has a built-in Navigation system with a charging station locator. The Leaf also includes a nice graphic of Eco-trees that grows as you drive, indicating how much CO2 you have saved by driving electric. However, for estimating range, I find that the Think capacity gauge, combined with my experience, is just as useful. In summary, the lack of a full Navigation unit and entertainment system in the Think is not really an issue – especially for $15,500.
Driving – Like the Leaf, the Think was designed as an electric vehicle from the beginning, and it shows in a good way. Weight is concentrated in the low center of the vehicle, for a great center of gravity. The ride is a little rough, owing to the short wheelbase. The steering has a tight European feel with little power assist, like a German vehicle. The car corners well and is extremely easy to parallel park. The Think uses a simple drive/eco/reverse gearbox with a center shifter and transmission fluid, compared to no transmission in the Leaf. The Think is not as quick as the Leaf, especially in the high end. Going from 0-30 mpg is still zippy, like all electrics. If you are coming from a gasoline car, the Think will seem quite peppy around the city. Acceleration up to 50 mph feels like a typical econobox. Above 50 mph, the Think is slow and really needs to be in Drive mode, not Eco mode, to get up to its top speed of about 65-70mph. However, overall I find it quite acceptable. The Think is very fun around town. I really smile driving the Think, and my other family members like it too. It’s a favorite!
Regenerative braking – Regenerative braking (“regen”) on the Think is a bit different than on the Leaf. For those who are new to electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, regen is the slowing down of the vehicle by feeding the force of the speeding car into a generator in order to slow down. The generator may be the motor in a different electrical configuration. This arrangement saves the brake pads, and converts the kinetic energy of the car back into electric energy in the battery. In any power conversion there is always a loss of energy, but it is still better to recapture this energy for future use instead of wearing down the brake pads. I like the Think regen system better than that of the Leaf, although it does take some time to learn. In the Think, the brakes don’t do the regen – just letting off the gas completely puts you in regen mode. Regen is stronger in Eco mode than in Drive mode, but in any case regen will slow down the car at a non-panic speed. The braking force can be increased by using the ABS brakes. By lightly feathering the accelerator, you are able to coast the vehicle, so that no energy is used. With practice, you can get quite good at reclaiming energy by using regen when slowing down for stoplights.
Range – The range of the Think is about 80 miles; perhaps 4-5 miles more than my Leaf. This range handles almost all of my daily needs and is great for commuting. For many trips, a small two-passenger EV makes a lot of sense. Any one-way commute of 30 miles or less will be within range, even if charging at work is not available and even when using the heater. The Think will save me about $1500 in fuel costs per year compared to most internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles; this savings alone will completely pay for the car in ten years!
Safety – Brakes are front disc and rear drum, with ABS. The headlights are not LED, and have replaceable bulbs. There are twin airbags and side-impact reinforcing bars on the doors. There are no recent US crash test results that I am aware of, but the Think did receive good marks in European safety crash testing.
Charging – The Think and the Leaf have a similar 24 kWh (kiloWatt-hour) battery. The Think comes with a portable Clipper Creek 120V charging unit that adds four miles of range per hour charging, or about 32 miles over the course of an eight hour workday. When charging at 240V, about twelve miles of range is added per hour charging. These charging rates at 120V and 240V are similar to those of the Leaf. Most public charging stations are 240V, and a home 240V charging station costs about $1000-$2000 to purchase and install.
Problems – The only issue I’m aware of so far is a heater problem. The heater can fail unpredictably, causing the electronics to freeze up. I have not experienced this problem, but am still planning for a replacement. Th!nk North America has been responsive in addressing this issue and fixing the heater, so that despite previous bankruptcies in the parent company, the warranty is still being honored. In addition, some people have reported problems with radio reception, but mine has always worked fine and the HD radio reception is good near me in Washington, DC.
** Update – The Think USA maintenance team as scheduled came through and did a great job upgrading the heater and replacing all the parts needed under warranty. Heater works great and subjectively seems less of a drain than the Leaf heater. Great support Think North America! **
Conclusion – So, if I did not already own an electric car, would I have considered the Think for my only electric? Yes, indeed! The Think has the same economy and range as the Leaf for $15K less, which is very tempting. As with any small company, the Think warranty is a bit of a gamble given the issues, but so far Think North America has come through when needed for service and warranty work, albeit slowly. The build quality on my car is good, and I believe that owners will find solutions to maintenance problems regardless of the company’s health, as with other small brand vehicles. Notably, the Think uses many Ford parts, which should help for long-term parts replacement.
In summary, when going with the Think, you do have to go in with eyes wide open that warranty and maintenance could a long-term problem. It will be interesting to compare the Think to the new Smart Electric Drive, which starts at $25,000. However for now, if you are looking for a new electric vehicle delivered under $16,000, the Think is the only answer.