Want Think’s Electric Car? Better Live in One of These Cities

Think, the Norwegian electric car maker that aims to start selling its Think City model in the U.S. next year, has been doing its homework: slicing and dicing the massive U.S. auto market into an index of cities where its mid-range two-seater is most likely to take off early on.

“Ideally,” Think CEO Richard Canny says in a release today of the company’s top 15 “EV-Ready” cities, Think would like to sell the City nationwide next year. “[B]ut in our early commercialization phase, it is important that we first establish a strong concentration of sales in key, highly attractive markets.” Topping Think’s list are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York (full index below the break).

As much range as can be found in the pricing, designs and origins of the upcoming generation of plug-in vehicles, most automakers working on these cars can agree on a few things: They’re going to need support from utilities, governments and other partners to help build the nascent market. And most places in the U.S. just don’t have the demand, income levels, infrastructure and incentives needed to support the earliest deployments of plug-in vehicles.

“We expect that the roll-out of EVs to the U.S. market will be quite focused in the early stages,” Canny notes in Think’s announcement. “Some cities are more likely to be early adopters of EV technology.”

The automaker, whose ambitious plans for U.S. manufacturing and sales hinge largely on a still-pending request for federal loans, hired research firm ASG Renaissance to compile the index. ASG assigned a score to each city based on “purchase/usage incentives,” such as access to carpool lanes and charging infrastructure, and “market fit,” indicated by factors including hybrid sales and traffic congestion. Canny explains the scores reflect “the available government support, consumer acceptance, and the opportunity for EVs to provide the maximum benefits possible from electric drive.”

Los Angeles earned the top spot on Think’s list, edging out San Francisco by just a fraction of a point in the market fit category and overall score. China’s BYD Co. is also eyeing the L.A. area as a prime launchpad for its upcoming electric model, the e6, due to its relatively high population density, air pollution problems, sizable car market, affluent residents and willingness to adopt new technologies.

Chicago and New York tie for third on Think’s list, followed by San Diego, Calif., Portland, Oreg., and Sacramento, Calif. Interestingly, Washington D.C., which General Motors (s GM) has named one of its lead markets for the upcoming Chevy Volt (an extended range electric vehicle, rather than an all-electric like Think’s model), brings up the bottom of the list, ahead of only Philadelphia and Phoenix.