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  • 23 Nov 2014

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Rose City revs up EV 'revolution'

Partnerships give electric car industry a road map to future


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Mercedes-Benz launched its Smart Fortwo electric car in Portland in May. The city is becoming a testing ground for alternative fuel vehicles.Interest in ultra-high-mileage vehicles continues to grow in Portland, driven in large part by a partnership between governments and nonprofit organizations that is attracting international attention.

Advocates are so busy, in fact, that they have scheduled two public events on the same day. On Saturday, Drive Revolution will be held at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and EV Celebration Day 2013 will be held at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Drive Revolution is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. outside of OMSI, 1945 S.E. Water Ave. It is being organized by the Northwest Automotive Writers Association to allow the public to see and, in some cases, test-drive the newest all-electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and clean-diesel vehicles. Automotive journalists from throughout the Pacific Northwest will gather at OMSI to test-drive and learn more about the vehicles on Thursday. The local media will check them out on Friday.

Auto association event Chairman Bengt Halverson says he chose Portland for the event because of the city’s commitment to sustainability.

“With Drive Revolution we’re celebrating the full range of ‘green’ vehicles — a topic that’s particularly strong in the Pacific Northwest — and using OMSI in Portland, appropriately, as a staging area,” Halverson says.

Drive Revolution is being held in conjunction with two bicycle-related events: the Cargo Bike Fair and the Disaster Relief Trials, which also feature cargo bikes.

EV Celebration Day 2013 is the third annual public display of electric vehicles organized by the Oregon Electric Vehicles Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization. It will feature both mass-produced EVs and custom-made vehicles owned by the members. It is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The events will occur between the Portland presentations of two new all-electric cars by major manufacturers. The first happened from May 2 to 5 when Mercedes-Benz offered public test drives of the newest version of its Smart Fortwo electric-drive microcar. The next will happen later this month when automotive writers from around the country will travel to town to test out the all-electric version of the subcompact Chevy Spark. Both vehicles will be represented at Drive Revolution.

EV road map

One reason Portland is attracting such events is a commitment the state of Oregon made to supporting rechargeable electric vehicles several years ago. Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski agreed to partner with the federal government to help finance a network of public charging stations when Nissan was selecting states to sell its all-electric Leaf.

Portland State University was chosen to lead much of the state’s research into the future of electric vehicles. A selection of charging stations were installed along a portion of Southwest Montgomery Street dubbed Electric Avenue, producing a staging area for EV-related events.

Since then several other manufacturers have tapped into PSU’s resources. They include: Toyota, which lent the university a fleet of prototype plug-in Prius hybrids; Ford, which unveiled a prototype of its all-electric Focus compact there; and Mitsubishi, which used Electric Avenue as a stage in the national launch of its all-electric MiEV.

PSU also has partnered with PGE on a series of summits to highlight the newest developments in the field. The next, “EV Roadmap 6: Drivers Take the Spotlight,” will be held on July 30 and 31 at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland, where PGE is based. It is being co-sponsored by Drive Oregon, a public-private partnership supported by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The events are happening as the sales of new electric cars are increasing, defying critics who claimed there was no market for them. According to the most recent figures, Leaf sales rose 315 percent in June. Sales of the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, increased 53 percent.