- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Nearly a century after making history with the Model T, Ford Motor Company is again attempting to revolutionize the industry. It will introduce THINK, a full line of zero-emission vehicles that might just redefine personal mobility. First to be introduced is the THINK neighbor, described as an environmentally friendly, flexible transportation solution for people living in a planned community or resort.

According to John R. Wallace, CEO of the Ford Think Group, "The THINK neighbor represents a new way of moving for a new way of living. Traditional cars and trucks are used to move from one location to another, generally in the context of work or running errands. The THINK neighbor is designed for travel within one location or community, generally for social activities for fun. This is a new way of thinking about transportation to address new consumer needs left untapped by the mainstream automotive industry."

Until recently, transportation within resorts and planned communities required the use of the same large, environmentally unfriendly vehicles used elsewhere. The only alternative was golf cart-type vehicles that offered little in the way of comfort, safety, flexibility, or economy. Ford research revealed a desire — and a need — by consumers for a better form of transportation. Many asked for something that made them more connected with their community, more open and friendly, like a front porch on wheels.

Fortunately, there are several choices now. One is the THINK neighbor, a technologically advanced vehicle ready to enter the relatively new, but fast-growing, federally recognized low-speed vehicle market. Much more than a golf cart, the "neighbor" is a hybrid vehicle somewhere between a basic golf cart and an automobile.

In 1998, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration designated a new class of motor vehicle: low speed vehicle. The LSV designation indicates that vehicles like the THINK neighbor perform much differently than golf carts and small utility vehicles, and therefore require special regulations. To date, 32 states have adopted specific requirements that define what type of roads LSVs can travel. In general, these vehicles are restricted to roads with speed limits up to 35 mph.

The rear-wheel-drive THINK neighbor is built around a fully independent suspension for ride comfort. Rack-and-pinion steering offers confident steering feel and feedback, as well as a tight turning circle of 24 feet. Four-wheel hydraulic brakes provide a stopping distance of only 30 feet from the maximum 25-mph speed of neighbor.

"Neighbor" has an extruded, fully welded aluminum frame for durability. Its safety package exceeds the U.S. government's FMVSS500 requirements for low-speed vehicles. Built-in safety systems guard against unintended rollaway of the stopped vehicle, short circuits and battery leakage. Warning systems remind the operator to set the parking brake and wear a safety belt.

A comprehensive list of safety equipment includes three-point safety belts at every seating position, head restraints at every position, an optional child seat mounting system, automotive-style high-mounted brake lamp and turn signals, backup lights, headlamps, mirrors, reflectors, safety glass windshield, horn, washer/wipers and 3-mph bumpers.

Battery-powered THINK will go up to 30 miles between charges, and can be recharged from any household 110/120-volt outlet in less than eight hours. Regenerative braking helps to recapture battery power from vehicle momentum as the vehicle slows from 35 to about 19 mph. It's propelled by a 72-volt General Electric DC motor, powered by six 12-volt lead-acid batteries. The 3,000-watt (4-horsepower) motor generates a peak of 65 foot-pounds of torque at 1,000 rpm. Ford says battery replacement after about five years of use should cost about $300.

The THINK neighbor is offered in two basic models: two- and four-passenger. The base package of both includes a trunk with lockable lid, driver's side mirror, solar windshield with washer and wiper, front cup holders, floor mats, and an instrument cluster that includes a state-of-charge indicator, reverse warning chime and horn. Several family and sport packages are offered.

Here's a vehicle that matches a new kind of lifestyle, and best of all, it's not only environmentally friendly — it's great fun to drive.


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