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Ford puts brakes on electric cars

Dearborn, Aug. 31: In another sign of the auto industry’s struggle to make money selling electric vehicles, the Ford Motor Co. said Friday that it was giving up on Think, an electric-car venture in which it had sunk $ 123 million. Instead, Ford said it would invest in other forms of alternative-fuel technology, like hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells.

Ford’s move comes despite a regulatory mandate in California requiring manufacturers to offer up to 100,000 electric and other low-emissions vehicles a year, beginning with the 2003 model year, which officially starts October 1. Similar requirements are pending in New York and Massachusetts, extending the mandate to one-fifth of the American auto market.

For now, the California law is blocked by a court injunction obtained by General Motors. Even so, GM announced earlier this month that it planned to give away thousands of its golf-cart-like electric vehicles to government agencies and other fleet operators in California and elsewhere, to meet the mandate should California ultimately prevail in court.

Sarah Tatchio, a Ford spokeswoman, said the company had concluded that there simply was not sufficient consumer interest in the Think vehicles, which are limited in both their size and the distance they can travel before requiring a recharge.

Officials in California played down the significance of Ford’s decision. “This is not a major dent in our efforts to clean the air,” said David K. Chai, a spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis.

Ford still plans to meet the California requirement. It will sell hybrid electric vehicles, which are powered in part by gasoline, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Neither is offered for sale now.

Although auto industry officials have lobbied hard for California regulators to rewrite the requirement, Tatchio said any expectation of that did not play into Ford's decision to back away from Think. “We do have to meet the mandates,” she said.

Ford created Think in 1999, when it bought Pivo Industries of Norway for $ 23 million. It renamed the company and has since invested $ 100 million in an attempt to develop a line of electric cars for sale to the public and government agencies.

The venture has two models: the Think City, a two-seat, plastic-bodied hatchback built at two plants outside Oslo, Norway, and the Think Neighbour, a golf-cart-like vehicle with some car features, including a windshield and headlights. It is built outside Detroit.

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