San Diego Business Journal

The Ford Motor Co. is moving the headquarters of its alternative-fuel vehicle division from Dearborn, Mich., to San Diego County.

A Ford official made the announcement during the Clean Cities Conference, held last week in San Diego.

The Th!nk Group, a subsidiary of Ford, will sell electric bicycles and electric automobiles to Southern California residents. Its headquarters will move some time in August, said Rob Stevens, spokesman for the Th!nk Group.

San Diego was chosen as the new site for the headquarters in large part because that's where the customers are, he said.

Stevens said the company is looking at various sites throughout North County. About 10-15 employees would transfer from Michigan, while an additional 15-25 employees would be hired locally at the outset, he said.

Ford spokesman Glen Ray confirmed the upcoming move, saying Th!nk is looking at several sites in Carlsbad. The location hasn't been chosen yet, but would likely be either in Carlsbad or close by, he said.

In addition, Ford would be adding 15-25 of its employees to Xcellsis, a fuel-cell development facility located in Poway. Xcellsis is a joint venture between Ballard Power Systems Co., Daimler-Chrysler and Ford, Ray said.

Th!nk has already announced two electric bikes and two vehicle models. The bicycles both have an electric motor for assistance, while one model folds up for easy storage, according to information from the Web site at (www.thinkmobility.com).

Interested buyers can put a deposit on the bikes by logging on to the Web site.

"We have people getting in line for first delivery of the bike immediately," Stevens said.

Th!nk Neighbor

The first of the electric cars, the Th!nk Neighbor, should be available by the end of the year. The car is a two-seater, open-air vehicle designed for local-only use, like a golf cart, Stevens said.

The Norwegian-built Th!nk City, meanwhile, resembles a smaller version of a conventional vehicle. The two-seater is intended primarily for city driving, with a top speed of 55 mph and a range of 50 miles on a single charge.

When the Th!nk City becomes available domestically, Stevens expects to market it as a short-commute or fleet vehicle , the same way it's being marketed in Norway.

Ford expects electric vehicles will have a market in urban areas because cities may face future government clean-air mandates making it difficult to operate conventional vehicles.

As an added bonus, the car's smaller size , just under 10 feet long , makes it easier to park in crowded cities, Stevens said.

Neither Ford nor Th!nk has any plans to sell a full-sized electric vehicle in the future, citing the limits of battery technology. Instead, Stevens believes the future for environmentally responsible cars lies in fuel cells.

Fuel Cells

Vehicles powered by fuel cells use neither an internal combustion engine, like traditional vehicles, nor a battery, like electric vehicles. Instead, the fuel cell chemically combines a fuel such as hydrogen or methanol with oxygen, without combustion. This produces electricity to run the car, with water as the chief by-product and almost no pollutants, Stevens said.

The fuel cell would power more conventionally sized vehicles. The Th!nk Group already has a demonstration project in Sacramento, where a Ford Focus is being run on fuel cells.

Steve Bimson, marketing manager for Pearson Ford, noted Th!nk's products will be sold at San Diego's Regional Transportation Center.

The center for alternative-fuel vehicles, spearheaded by Bimson, held its groundbreaking ceremony May 7, to coincide with the opening of the Clean Cities Conference.