DEARBORN - Ford Motor Co.'s introduction of a new brand of vehicle under the TH!NK label reveals a change in "think"ing concerning the electric vehicle market. Instead of waiting for the technology to become compatible with existing platforms, Ford has developed electric, zero-emission TH!NK vehicles for niche-driven markets.

The first of the zero-emission vehicles, the TH!NK Neighbor, a low-speed vehicle, is scheduled for production in late fall of 2000 at the TH!NK's new Manhattan, KS, plant.

The Neighbor is being marketed initially to people living in closed or gated communities - and to commercial enterprises such as resorts and airports. But Brian Taylor, TH!NK manager of sales operations, expects to see significant increases in the number of applications.

"With TH!NK being a brand-new endeavor, we are learning of potential new applications all the time," says Mr. Taylor. The Neighbor's range is 30 miles (48 km); its six lead-acid batteries (totaling 72 volts of power) drive the 5kW DC motor with 65 lb.-ft. (88 Nm) peak torque at 1,500 rpm. With a standard 110-volt system (one is provided on the vehicle), recharging time is four to eight hours.

Although Ford probably avoids the comparison at all costs, the Neighbor is meant to do double duty as a true golf cart: there's a 2-speed gearing selection offering a "golf course" setting with a maximum speed of 15 mph (24 km/h), while a maximum of 25 mph (40 km/h) is achieved with the "private road" selection.

Three-point safety restraints, 3-mph (5-km/h) bumpers and a safety windshield help the Neighbor meets the FMVSS500 government safety standards established for low-speed vehicles.

Customers will be able to purchase the vehicle at participating Ford dealers or may purchase the Neighbor online at the TH!NK website with delivery directly from the factory to the customer's door. Both 2-passenger and 4-passenger models will be offered, with an estimated price ranging from $6,000 to $7,000 depending on the package. Options include larger storage space and a radio/CD player.

The City, the second EV developed by TH!NK, already is on sale in Norway. U.S. availability is to begin in 2002, once changes are made to make it compatible with U.S. safety regulations.The City is more of a "car" in the traditional sense, with a top speed of 56 mph (90 km/h) and a range of 53 miles (85 km).

City's safety features include side-impact door beams and a driver-side air bag. The City will meet or exceed all standard government safety regulations, Ford says.

At first, only 2-passenger models will be produced - and customers will purchase the City only through certified Ford dealers that handle the Ford Ranger EV.