I have seen the future of transportation, and it unfolds on an electric avenue. On the campus of Portland State University (PSU), Electric Avenue (which opened Tuesday) offers a smorgasbord of charging opportunities for electric cars, trucks, bicycles and motorcycles — many of which were on hand for the gala event.
Those dancers? That was the Electric Avenue "flash mob." Maybe not the best choice of words, there. Since Portland is America’s number one public transit town, it’s great that the Avenue is located downtown where myriad bus and light rail routes come together. If you can’t get around without an internal-combustion engine, you’re not half trying. Within 10 blocks of downtown, in a “Fareless Square,” the transit (except for the buses now) is even free. So is the electric vehicle charging.
There are no less than seven 240-volt EV stations from six different companies, and even one 480-volt fast charger that can get an EV back on the road in just half an hour.
The charging is supposedly 100 percent renewable from utility PG&E (whose president, Jim Piro, is plugging in at the photo below), and it’s also subsidized by PSU. That’s a good thing because once the free market gets its meat hooks into electric car charging, it could get somewhat expensive — even as much as gasoline in some cases. Walgreens is putting EV charging at 800 stores, but private companies are installing the hardware and they need to earn their investment back. Fifty cents a kilowatt hour doesn’t sound like a lot, but it would add up quickly.
It may be a while before there are lines on Electric Avenue. Right now, Oregon has just 800 electric vehicles on its roads, but is preparing a pretty smooth glide path. The stat has funded an EV corridor (with eight stations) along I-5, which travels Oregon from north to south and connects to a similar corridor in Washington state. So from the redwood forests to the Canadian border, there should be EV charging every 40 to 60 miles.
AeroVironment is in charge of that plan, and its Kristen Helsel told me that the stations won’t necessarily be at highway rest areas. Because EV charging takes a while, they expect that people will want to do something else while the plug is in. So the stations might be at highway-side malls or restaurants.
I talked to Maurice Durand, who had brought a Mitsubishi i EV to the Electric Avenue opening in Portland. This is an important EV (formerly known as the I-MiEV). Durand told me the American version will debut in November, initially sold only in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, but it will be national by the end of 2012. A cool thing about the i EV is the price — $27,990 before the federal rebate. That slots it in well below the Nissan Leaf, which will now be $38,000 before the rebate.
Mitsubishi is also fielding a plug-in hybrid crossover based on the PX showcar it unveiled in Tokyo in 2009. Durand was like a kid in a candy store walking up and down Electric Avenue looking at all the charging options for his electric car.
Electric Avenue will have all the great cars. As I type this, General Motors is confirming that the Volt will have a sibling, the Cadillac ELR luxury coupe. It’s a version of the dramatic Converj that GM showed off in Detroit two years ago. Expect it to cost a fair amount more than the Volt, which is priced at $41,000. Nobody said that travel on Electric Avenue was cheap.
If all this wasn't enough, there's a catchy video on YouTube, complete with cartoon and song: