FRANKFURT — Ford Motor Co. will start pilot production of its Think electric car in Norway this month. In January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it will announce a sweeping program under the Think brand for North America.

“This small car represents the beginning of something much bigger at Ford,” says Ford of Europe President Nick Scheele.

Capacity at the factory in Aurskog-Holand, Norway, is 5,000 units a year, and the goal for next year is 3,000 sales in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Nordic Telecom has agreed to buy 700 cars itself over the next few years, says Think Nordic President Per A. Lilleng.

While the product is small, the brand will be big. The automaker spells the name TH!NK. John Wallace, the Ford executive in charge, says the middle letter is an exclamation point, not an upside down “i.”

Think will be to Ford what Smart was to the former Daimler-Benz AG. The German automaker invested in Micro Compact Car AG with the makers of Swatch watches because a conservative company needed to learn to be creative. For Ford, Think will serve a similar purpose. “Jac Nasser (Ford president) wants to change Ford,” says Wallace, and Think will be one of his key instruments.

“(The) Think city car has inspired a new enterprise at Ford that will open a new market segment for Ford and help us forge new relationships with customers in ways they never before considered,” Nasser says. Details of the Think project are being closely guarded until the January announcement, but Think will challenge assumptions on sales and distribution as well as powertrains and manufacturing techniques.

In Norway, Think will deliver cars through the Hertz rent-a-car network. Marketing already has started on the Internet. The site was the original site with the international site,, opening recently.

The Think city car in Norway uses plastic body panels on a steel frame, and nickel cadmium batteries give it a range of 85 km (53 miles), and a top speed of 95 km/h (59 mph). Recharging with 220 volt electricity, which is the standard in Europe, takes four to six hours.

Ford says the Think will be used to develop “new concepts in the use of plastic body components as well as low-volume and flexible manufacturing. With fewer parts per vehicle, design phases are shorter and manufacturing is simpler.”

Wallace intends Think to be a moneymaker. DaimlerChrysler AG's Smart, he says, erred in being on too large a scale. It won't make money for at least six years. “I want to show Ford how to do business without big investments,” Wallace says.

A Think car for the U.S. market is likely to be a hybrid. Ford showed a 3-cyl. 1L gasoline engine in Frankfurt that could be used with an electric motor in a hybrid. Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. each have small hybrid cars using nickel-metal hydride batteries, and Wallace says that Ford likely would use the same one to cut costs by “riding the volume curve.”