By Kristen Hall-Geisler
Above: Nathan Los and his red Tesla on Electric Avenue near Portland State University. It was either this car, or none, says Los.
Below: A charging station on Electric Avenue.
// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina
Two years ago, electric vehicles were going to save the world and Oregon in particular. There would be several models on the market to choose from, they all would be fast and go far, and there would be as many charging stations dotting I-5 as Ducks fans on game day. Manufacturers and politicians alike were expecting everyone to dive into the deep end of the EV pool. But consumers have been slow to embrace the new technology. As Mitsubishi’s Maurice Durand says about the EV Promised Land: “If anyone’s talking in terms of five years, make it 20.”
Buying an EV has become less of a boutique experience and more like buying any other car. Electric-only dealerships are nearly a thing of the past, with Green Tech Automotive selling low-powered neighborhood electric vehicles from NmG in Portland, and Grants Pass Electric Vehicles selling NEVs and electric motorcycles. The more powerful commute-friendly Nissan Leaf is available through Nissan dealerships now, and Mitsubishi has taken 400 total preorders in four states, including Oregon, for its i-MiEV electric car. Durand says the company has modest volume targets to push the infrastructure, since it is taking consumers longer to adopt the new technology than Mitsubishi had anticipated.
Electric cars from a few major manufacturers were expected to be on sale in 2010, but they are only now arriving at dealerships. The EVs available today go faster and farther on a charge than most EVs of the past and a few early adopters in Oregon seem to be willing to plunk down the cash to be emissions-free. In April 2009, there were 130 electric-only vehicles registered in Oregon, and many of those were conversions of gasoline-powered cars done by enthusiasts. In October, there were 880 passenger electric vehicles registered, not counting commercial vehicles.
While consumers are slow to warm up to the EV idea, Oregon electric vehicle manufacturing is also struggling to find its spark. BYD, a company courted by Gov. Ted Kulongoski two years ago, has yet to establish any manufacturing outside its home base in China. Think!, a Norwegian company also wooed by Oregon boosters, built its U.S. plant in Plainfield, Ind. Even homegrown EV businesses have struggled over the past two years; electric ATV builder Barefoot Motors closed its Ashland-based business in late 2010. EV-only dealership EcoMotion closed its doors in 2009.
There are a couple of bright spots. Another Ashland EV company, Brammo, is selling its electric motorcycles in Best Buy and expanding its European sales. There’s also Arcimoto, the Eugene company founded by Mark Frohnmayer and championed by Nathan Fillion of ABC’s Castle, which is nearing production of its SRK small electric vehicle.