Gov. Ted Kulongoski at a recent test-drive of Think Global’s electric car.
PHOTO BY OREGON BUSINESS
PORTLAND The prospect of replacing soon-to-be-lost Freightliner jobs with a forward-thinking, emissions-free hub of electric vehicle manufacturing centered in Portland is certainly a tantalizing scenario to consider. It plays right into the state’s earnest attempts to prove itself as the green capital of the civilized world, and it would seem to justify whatever generous subsidies and creative financing packages might be required.
But how realistic is it?
Gov. Ted Kulongoski has been test-driving a lot of shiny, silent prototypes lately as he and his recruitment specialists attempt to snag Nissan, Mitsubishi, Norwegian electric car specialist Think Global and BYD, the largest battery manufacturer in China. Porteon, an e-car startup based in Northwest Portland, is also honing in on a product launch to supplement a push to turn Portland into what CEO Ken Montler calls “a center of excellence for manufacturing electric vehicles.”
But the red flags are difficult to ignore. For one thing, the Michigan license plate on the back of the Think Car piloted by the governor serves as a reminder that Oregon is just one of seven states the company is considering for its proposed 300-job factory. The incentives arms race is on, and the winner may end up being the team that buys into the hype most readily.
Then there is the matter of bankruptcy. Think Global is in rather desperate need of capital to pay off its European creditors before it can expand into Oregon or anywhere else.
Also scrapping for cash is Portland’s Ecomotion dealership, which moved onto Northeast Sandy to capitalize on the city’s green buying power, only to be outlasted by Vic Alfonso’s nearby Hummer and Cadillac dealership.
Ecomotion was offering the hottest prices in the country for electric cars and trucks in February: 2008 Zap sedans for $6,900 and 2008 Zap trucks for $7,900, plus up to $1,250 in Oregon tax credits. The dealership’s impending closure shows e-cars have a ways to go.
E-car sales probably will pick up once Nissan and Mitsubishi start their big marketing pushes in Oregon with faster, more efficient models. But it remains to be seen whether Oregon’s hefty bet on the future of e-vehicles will develop into a big winner as with solar power or a botched boondoggle in the tradition of corn ethanol.