One afternoon last May in Menlo Park, Calif., a venture capitalist named Ray Lane led me from his office to the parking lot, where an automobile had been delivered a few hours earlier by flatbed truck. The car, built in Norway, was powered by batteries and had a plug-in outlet hidden under a flip-top cover near the driver-side door. To my eye, the car resembled a generic European compact, but with some differences; the body, for instance, was made from a textured, plasticized material. In a lot full of gleaming new vehicles, some of them owned by the wealthiest venture capitalists in the United States, this car -- branded the Think -- seemed distinctive mainly for its lack of sparkle.
"You want to drive?" Lane asked, tossing me the key. Inside, the dashboard was seemingly made of densely woven fabric, and the seat was covered in a material that felt decidedly un-Corinthian. "The Think is 95 percent recyclable," Lane said matter-of-factly, giving me the sense that we were about to drive a milk carton rather than a car. A turn of the key started up a barely perceptible hum somewhere under the hood. "There we go," Lane said, sitting back with a pleased expression. I shifted into drive and hit the gas pedal -- actually, the electricity pedal -- a little too hard, and the Think lurched forward.