For politicians betting on electric vehicles to drive job growth, the view from inside Think City's plant here is their worst nightmare: 100 unfinished vehicles lined up with no word on whether they will be completed.
Only two years ago, the tiny Think cars (two can fit in a regular parking space) were expected to bring more than 400 jobs to this ailing city and a lifeline to suppliers who once made parts for gas-guzzling recreational vehicles.
"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," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in January 2010 in announcing government incentives used to attract Think to his state.
Instead, the Hoosier State's big bet has been a bust. The plant is devoid of activity; there are just two employees. A Russian investor who recently purchased Think's bankrupt parent in Norway has been silent about its future. A government-backed Indianapolis battery maker that was to supply Think wrote off a $73-million investment in the car company and Thursday declared bankruptcy. Two unrelated electric truck makers Indiana planned to nurture have yet to get off the ground. [The government-backed battery maker was another one of Obama's initiatives. Another Solyndra.]
Indiana's foray into electric vehicles is a cautionary tale for states in hot pursuit of high-tech manufacturing jobs. Think's story illustrates how politicians so badly wanted to stimulate job growth that they showered the automaker and the battery supplier with tax benefits and incentives while at the same time failing to determine whether there was a market for the car: a plastic two-seater with a top speed of about 65 mph and a price tag approaching $42,000.
"Where's the value?" Gregg Fore, an Elkhart recreational vehicle industry executive, said of Think. "I could buy a golf cart for five grand if that's what I wanted to drive."
Fore says the federal and state governments as well as Elkhart subsidized the Think project apparently believing those tax benefits would drive down the vehicle's price and make the cars more attractive. "By giving money to the battery company and electric car company, they are saying, 'We want you to buy their products even though we know you don't want them.'"No comment, the story speaks for itself. Except to say this was a headline story in the LA Times, not a trivial or conservative newspaper.
Where's the value? Where's the beef?