I pushed pedal to metal. The gleaming orange, all-electric Ford Focus shot along Tri-Met's bus mall Tuesday, attracting stares.
Impressive torque. No noise. Those were chief impressions of the prototype plug-in car displayed in Portland at the first stop of Ford Motor Co.'s 14-city electric tour.
"The passenger feels that acceleration, too," said Daniel Pierce, Ford's environmental communications manager, sounding slightly nervous as we zoomed toward the rear of a northbound bus. I steered back to Portland State University's Urban Plaza, avoiding a Max train so the next person in line could take a spin.
Ford picked Portland for its electrification debut because, company managers said, Oregon leads other states in preparing for plug-in vehicles. The company announced an agreement Tuesday with Portland General Electric Co. to pave the way for EVs, as they're called.
"Our vision has been, let's become the best premier launch market for electric vehicles in this country," said Charlie Allcock, PGE's economic development director. "We're going to have 1,000 charging stations publicly available from Portland down to Eugene by June 30 of next year."
While major uncertainties remain, answers to practical questions are emerging:
* A car such as the Focus, available next year at a sticker price yet to be announced, will take six to eight hours to recharge at a 220-volt residential station after driving its full 100-mile range. A public quick-charge station will reduce that to about 15 minutes; a 110-volt household socket could do it in 16 to 20 hours.
* An electric car will cost less than 2 cents a mile, in energy expenses, to operate in Oregon. A conventional car costs about 15 cents a mile, with gas at $3 a gallon.
* An electric car might work best as a primary family vehicle for commuting and errands, with a second gas-powered car available for longer trips. A passenger EV driven 15,000 miles a year will have a carbon footprint of about 2 tons, versus an estimated 7 tons emitted by a gasoline engine.
* Electric vehicles won't likely overwhelm PGE's grid, given that a plug-in hybrid pulls about as much electricity as a hair dryer. But clusters of powerful chargers could boost demand significantly in neighborhoods filled with early adopters.
* PGE is still working out some kinks. There's the issue of what to do with about a third of the utility's customers who rent, or park on the street or live in older homes with limited electrical capacity, complicating the charging process.
The $64,000 question is how many Americans will want electric vehicles.
"I don't want to pretend to know the answer," said Mike Tinskey, Ford's sustainability manager. "The best thing is to build in flexibility."
Ford plans to manufacture its Focus plug-ins on the same line used for the gas-powered model, meaning production can meet demand. Ford also plans to offer
several models, ranging from a plug-in hybrid to an all-electric delivery truck,
the Transit Connect.
Competing electrics include the Leaf, made by Nissan Motor Co., and the iMiEV, made by Mitsubishi Motors. The two Japanese manufacturers have signed agreements with the state of Oregon for early introduction.
Smart Center Portland, 9215 S.W. Canyon Rd., is taking deposits for all-electric models for lease beginning in October. And Tesla Motors will let prospective owners of its roadster test-drive the plug-in sports car in Northwest Portland this Sunday. Call Tesla's Genny Carter, at 206-682-2625, to schedule an
Robert Reitmajer, facilities and fleet director for the city of Hillsboro, test-drove the electric Focus Tuesday and found it spectacular. He has money in this year's budget for two cars, assuming each costs about $30,000.
"It just depends," Reitmajer said, "how fast they roll them out."