February 2011 Archives

EVs at the 2011 Portland International Auto Show

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Cathy and I were invited to show our Tesla Roadster in the Eco-Center at the 2011 Portland International Auto Show. Tesla Motors didn't have the resources to participate, so we and Chad Schwitters agreed to show our cars and represent Plug In America in promoting electric vehicles.

Since we got our first EV in 2008, a 2002 Toyota RAV4-EV, we've participated in many car shows. When we started, the EV world was made up of dedicated enthusiasts converting gas cars to electric or holding onto the few vehicles from the early 2000's saved from the crusher (see Who Killed the Electric Car). The Portland show made it clear things have changed: a 30,000 square-foot area at a major auto show dedicated to energy-efficient vehicles, Nissan and GM selling mainstream electric vehicles, other automakers scrambling to jump onto the EV bandwagon, and lots of interest among the show attendees.

The show organizers got in touch with us through our friend John Wayland, who was invited to show White Zombie, the world's fastest accelerating street-legal electric vehicle. John and his team have been advancing the state of the art for 14 years. Not only does White Zombie go from 0 to 60 mph in 1.8 seconds and cover the quarter-mile in 10.2 seconds, it has a driving range of 120 miles. John makes a point of driving it to the track from his home to demonstrate that an electric vehicle can have tremendous performance without making the sacrifices that limit most high-end drag racers to being hauled around on trailers.

We insisted on being placed next to White Zombie so we could hang out with John and his crew, and also point people who thought the Roadster's performance (0 to 60 in 4 seconds) was impressive to a much quicker electric car.

On the other side of us, there was a Nissan Leaf. For people who thought the Roadster's energy efficiency and lack of dependence on oil was cool, but too expensive or impractical, we could point them to a Leaf that costs less than a fourth of the Roadster's price and carries 5 passengers and much more cargo. Nissan had a second Leaf in their main area that was open so people could check out the interior.

They were a day late, but GM did finally get a Volt in the Eco-Center, next to the Leaf. GM also had a Volt in the middle of their main section for the whole show, but it was up on a pedestal and not open for viewing.

To make sure no one thought that EVs were a new invention, there was a 1917 Detroit Electric car on display. These were popular back in the day when cars had to be hand-cranked to start. No one wanted to put up with that inconvenience. It makes me wonder why so many people today are content to put up with the inconvenience of fueling their cars at gas stations and the insanity of sending their fuel dollars into the global oil market that supports really unfriendly governments.

You don't have to drive on four wheels to get the benefits of driving electric: Brammo is marketing a line of all-electric motorcycles.

Straddling the gap between motorcycles and traditional cars are companies like Arcimoto that are building highly efficient, enclosed two-passenger vehicles.

In the fall of 2009, a representative at the Seattle Auto Show told me how the Mini folks were way ahead of everyone else in producing an electric vehicle. The best they have to show so far is a small number of test cars they've put on the market with a one-year lease program. Although it was cool so see the vehicle, it was locked up tight and unattended. The Mini-E could be such an awesome vehicle if they would just get it done and start selling them.

Next year, with even more vehicles available to consumers, I'm hoping EVs will be at the show in force and not relegated to a fringe eco-conscious area. Maybe next year we can be showing front and center in a section dedicated to vehicles that offer instant acceleration, convenient at-home fueling, support for local energy jobs, reduced dependence on the highly volatile global oil market, and increased national security. I suppose we could mention that they are also better for the environment, but I think everyone already knows that.

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