Think Global Set On Indiana For Electric Car Plant

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) -- A Norwegian electric car maker says it remains committed to opening a factory in jobs-hungry northern Indiana, although it is still awaiting a decision on its bid for a federal loan more than six months after announcing those plans.

Think Global is negotiating a lease for a former recreational vehicle parts factory in Elkhart and still anticipates starting production in 2011, company spokesman Brendan Prebo said.

A "For Lease" sign remains in place outside the vacant factory, although city officials said the owner has agreed to take it down.

"We're still committed to Elkhart," Prebo said. "Right now, we're not planning on manufacturing the Think City anywhere in North America except Elkhart."

Think Global announced in January at an event with Gov. Mitch Daniels that it planned to build compact, two-door electric passenger cars at a plant in Elkhart, a city suffering from job losses due to the collapse of the RV industry. The company already produces the cars in Finland.

It projected the new factory would have 415 full-time workers by 2013.

Barkley Garrett, Elkhart's economic development director, said the company provided regular updates on its progress and that all signs continued to be positive.

Think Global has applied for federal funding from the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program run by the Department of Energy and was working with the agency on its application, Prebo said.

"We are in the process of due diligence," he said. "We feel very positive ... about the pace and tone of the discussion."

Failure to obtain the federal loan could change how quickly Think Global starts production and how large the Elkhart plant becomes, Prebo said. However, it would not stop the auto manufacturer from bringing the vehicle to the American market.

Prebo said representatives of Think Global, battery-maker EnerDel, the property's owner and the city walked through the Elkhart building with construction and architectural consultants to discuss needed renovations and upgrades.

Local officials in January praised the company's decision as helping diversify the area's economy, which saw thousands of people lose jobs at RV factories during the recession.

Elkhart County's unemployment rate peaked in March 2009 at 18.9 percent but has fallen steadily since, although its jobless rate of 13.7 percent for May was the state's highest.

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