BY KEVIN MANAHAN
Portland’s Pioneer Square was buzzing with excitement last week over the three-wheeled contraption being backed out a U-Haul. Eugene-based Arcimoto was premiering its new Pulse electric vehicle, and legislators and promoters were on hand to praise the machine’s benefits to both Oregon and the green industry. Mayor Sam Adams even revealed that the machine was helping him win an ongoing electric-car competition between himself and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.
But to some, it wasn’t just the premiere of an electric car. I overheard one attendee telling another, “This is not a car. It’s a revolution.”
The debut of the Pulse had curious citizens and reporters swarming Portland’s living room, snapping photos of the strange-looking vehicle that looked like it was plucked straight out of sci-fi fantasy. Businesspeople were talking excitedly about the implications of the new car, and Adams even got to sit in it. It was a warm reception for Arcimoto’s brainchild, which the startup had been working on since it was founded in 2007.
The company’s remarkably young CEO, 23-year-old Eric Stafl, proudly delivered a lot of glossy PR about the Pulse. “Just as in 1903, when Henry Ford started his company, this is the time for a new era in how we drive,” Stafl said. The Pulse certainly takes things in a new direction; while coming equipped with the usual trappings of a modern gas guzzler (e.g. power locks and windows, an MP3-capable stereo system), the Pulse is a fully electric vehicle that can be powered at both public charging stations and standard household outlets. And while the operational costs of a regular car usually come out to about 10 cents a mile, the Pulse runs at a much leaner 1 to 2 cents per mile.
So it’s no wonder speakers like Plug In America vice president Paul Scott were at the event touting the Pulse’s green and economic benefits. “To the extent that we change gallons of gasoline to kilowatt hours, we’ll clean up our air, we’ll clean up our water, and we’ll make our nation safe,” Scott said, adding that buying electric cars also decreases dependence on foreign oil and reduces the cancer-causing effects of car pollution. In Oregon alone, Rep. Mary Nolan (D-Portland) said the local workforce will get a boost from the 250 employees Arcimoto hopes to employ by 2012, while political activist Steve Novick pointed out that the Pulse’s debut was a step toward repositioning America as an economic leader. “We need to start making things again,” Novick said. “Arcimoto isn’t just making a car. They’re rebuilding the American economy.”
But even with all the fuss over the Pulse, will people be interested in electric cars while major manufacturers like Toyota are still making plans for hybrid vehicles? Most likely, given the long-term appeal plug-in cars have over hybrids (despite certain disadvantages), according to a Portland Tribune article. The Pulse went on sale after the premiere presentation, and just a few minutes later deposits started rolling in. And while electric cars are generally much pricier than hybrids, the Pulse is aiming for a base price under $20,000 – which Adams said is about $100,000 cheaper than the vehicle made by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Tesla Motors. Yet another bragging right for Portland, and for Adams in his race against San Francisco. “What we’ve lacked is a street-ready car made in Oregon,” Adams said. “Today that changes. I look forward to the Pulse joining the city’s fleet and maybe even one day, just possibly being the mayor’s limousine.”
Kevin Manahan is the online editor for Oregon Business.