If you like to read about cars on the internet, and you probably do if you are reading this, you know a wave of electric cars is coming. Just as some manufacturers have embraced the move to EV’s more quickly than others, so have cities around the world begun adopting to these new cars.
This is kind of a snapshot of the local EV scene in Portland Oregon. One of the things I enjoy most about Curbside Classic is the input from our community of readers from around the globe. I hope after reading this, you will let me know how your city is adapting to this new technology in the comments below.
In the USA, Portland is probably near the top in a list of cities embracing EVs. I’m not writing this as an EV driver, my ’93 Buick Regal is paid for and suits me fine at this point. But I can see myself buying a used one in 3 to 5 years as prices become more affordable. I keep noticing more and more electrics on the street every day. Charging stations are starting to pop up in more locations all over the city.
The Northwest has a history of economical green energy with the Bonneville Dam. Located on the Columbia River, about 40 miles east of Portland, this dam, along with a system of 41 others in the PNW, has provided the area with inexpensive, abundant power since 1938 through the Bonneville Power Association (BPA). People here are possibly more open to the idea of electric cars, as our electricity comes from this renewable source.
The fact that EV use is growing around here shouldn’t be a surprise. This is a Think City EV that I shot back in 2012. They are actually still quite a common site here if you keep your eyes peeled. A recent co-worker owned one and said he enjoyed it. He is totally NOT a car guy and uses it as basic city transportation, but he liked it. These cars were assembled in Elkhart Indiana from 2010 to 2012.
Portland is one of those places manufacturers send their compliance cars. We seem to get the limited availability cars that don’t make to most parts of the country. I see lots of Fiat 500e electrics and BMW i3s. The Kia Soul EV has been here for a few years, and I just saw the newest version of it on the street today. Pizza delivery guys use Chevy Spark EVs to deliver pizzas.
Surprisingly, I don’t see as many Chevy Bolts as I thought I would. They are vastly outnumbered by Nissan Leafs and Tesla Model 3s.
I remember finally seeing my first Tesla Model 3 in Portland. It was very exciting to see one in person, but now they are a common site. Especially in more affluent areas of town, Teslas, like this Model X, are everywhere.
I took my camera to Downtown Portland on a Saturday afternoon in January to see what the electric car scene was like that day. My first stop was a public charging station at the World Trade Center (not that infamous one) in the heart of the city. There I found a number of EVs charging and a couple of open chargers.
I see the Tesla above needed to use an adapter to charge at this station. I wasn’t even aware that Mitsubishi made a PHEV version of the Outlander. Some EV’s are less noticeable than others.
My walk took me through the heart of Downtown Portland and the “Pearl District” where you don’t have to look hard at all to find a variety of EV’s.
Please don’t let my photos mislead you. Even here, EVs are still only a small minority of the cars in the city. We have a long way to go before we see the end of the ICE age.
In neighborhoods across the city, it’s becoming more and more common to see all sorts of electric vehicles, including exotic ones like this BMW i8.
All over the city, charging stations are starting to appear in shopping centers and apartment complexes. The infrastructure needed to go electric is slowly, but steadily arriving. This Leaf is charging for free at a clothing store.
Because Portland is such a bicycle friendly place, it’s no wonder e-bikes are taking off here too. This “Specialized” has a mid-mounted motor and an integrated battery pack. Behind it, is a MAX electric light rail vehicle.
We put e-bikes to work too. Here we see an employee of the local bike sharing service, collect bicycles with a custom 3-wheeler that is equipped with an electric motor to help haul the heavy load.
There may be some of you out there that fear or even resent this new type of vehicle prowling our fair streets. Fear not. Since this is Portland, there will always be a few cool old cars around here for years to come. While out shooting EV’s for this post, I came across this beautiful Ford Galaxie 500.
With a little imagination, you can hear the V-8 rumble and smell the gasoline. The past was wonderful, but it looks like the future is starting to get here now. I’m ready to hop on board.
Interesting that you see more Leafs than Bolts. 600 miles down the coast, the first gen Leaf which was very common, along with the 500e, is starting be less viable and the Bolt seems to have taken over the mantle of #2 behind the ubiquitous Tesla’s. Audi eTrons and eGolfs seem to have taken hold as well. Despite the presence of of a Nissan dealer in town, and no Chevy store, the 2nd gen Leaf doesn’t seem to be selling well here. I am glad to see your bike share bikes collected on an e-trike. In my town, the Jump (Uber) bike collection vehicle is a white ProMaster, decidedly non-electric.
A possible explanation for the dearth of Leafs is that their air-cooled batteries are very climate-sensitive, particularly warmer temperatures. Those first generation Leafs, in particular, have a rather nasty habit of losing range to the point that Nissan was replacing them under warranty for a while. I personally know of a couple guys with first gen Leafs where their range is now down to ~50 miles on a full charge. The upside is if that range is enough for someone’s driving style, early Leafs can be had for not much coin.
Perhaps Portland’s weather is a tad more Leaf-friendly so they enjoy a longer lifespan (as well as other air-cooled BEVs).
What a fine roundup of the EV scene here! Our hydro power is the foundation, and the same gorge also gives us plenty of wind power. Oregon follows California rules so all their EVs are available here too.
I had a red Think City just like that one for about a year. Nice little car but just a little too small for me. With the plastic body panels it really did look like a kiddie car. The Fiat is just enough bigger, much faster and suits me fine.
Love that Ford too. Reminds me of my parents’ ‘61.
Thanks for a great piece!
Went to a dinner in Paradise Valley (Phoenix/Scottsdale) @ the Camelback Golf Club & they had 4 Tesla chargers.
Had plenty of range on our Model S, but nice to add a bit of range.
Nice writeup! Here is Seattle we have a lot of EVs running around. Within two or three blocks of us I see five or six Teslas (Telsae?) and several Leafs (Leaves?) on our walks with our schnauzer. Since I’m an IC Mercedes Benz driver (E300 and SLK AMG) I don’t really pay attention to the location/availability of chargers. My gut feeling, though, is that chargers are becoming more prevalent here. I know they recently took out a bunch of parking spots at my HMO clinic for e-only charger spots.
One comment about the PNW and hydropower. Although hydro by definition is renewable, it’s not entirely eco-friendly. Laying the dams across all those rivers wreaked havoc with the ecosystem and destroyed a lot of native fish populations (such as the Pacific salmon) that spawn in the rivers. After all, it’s hard to swim upstream to spawn when there is a dam in the way. There are other negative ecosystem effects as well. In fact, there has been a movement here to remove some of the small, older dams and return the rivers to their natural habitat.
Of course, hydropower is much preferred to burning fossil fuels from a greenhouse gas perspective. But at present our hydro capacity is pretty maxed out – there aren’t more rivers to dam.
Thank you very much Tim and Paul for reporting on so much green energy. Great work here!
It looks like Portland may be well on its way to solving the “but what if I can’t charge my car at my home?” problem. Much of the rest of the country has not.
A few years ago, MBUSA was dumping a ton of off-lease electric smarts. They could be had at retail for around $5k! I came very close to buying one, as I always liked the smart, and the Electric Drive model solved the problem of the awful transmission on the gas version. However, the smart electric was sold/leased with a scheme of leasing the battery, and would never come clear on who owned the battery on used models, so I passed. Glad I did, because last year I became one of those people who can’t charge at home.
Are hybrids and plug-in hybrids popular in the PNW too?
Yes. The Toyota Prius is as common here as pick-up trucks are in Texas.
Is the pope Catholic?
Surely you’ve seen a few of my many multiple Prius Outtakes over the years here?
The Prius has frequently been at the top of the charts in western WA and it isn’t uncommon to see families with multiple or being at a stop light surrounded by Prius and having a couple across the intersection. Other Hybrids and Plug In Hybrid versions of other cars are very popular too. You’d think the Mistu was a great seller based on the number I see on the road around here. More likely than not if you see a Newer RAV-4, Highlander or Fusion for it to be the Hybrid or in the case of the Fusion the Energi.
Very interesting article, Tim! Surprised you did not see any Volts in Portland – I see them pretty often and my ’13 was a terrific solution to the range anxiety problem, as it functioned for 99% of the time like a pure electric, but could still be driven cross country if needed. It was ideal for my 17 mile each way commute and had the lowest running costs of any car I have ever had….
Also, we should not assume that users of electrics have anything against the cars that us Curbevors appreciate – preserving the older stuff like Tim’s daily driver is also environmentally friendly – manufacturing new vehicles uses a lot of energy and in the case of batteries, precious metals.
I daily drive a nearly 50 year old car and have a 60 year old one in the garage, but also love the way electrics drive and can certainly see our next new car purchases being plug in hybrids, or pure electric vehicles.
Actually, I see quite a few Volts around here. They seem to be pretty popular. I see a Bolt here and there, but other EVs might be selling better, at least from what I can see. Personally, It’s the car I’d be most interested in finding used in a few years. They seem like great cars.
The evolution of the Dutch people has changed us from blood thursty sea robbers into hyper politically correct world improvers, especially if we get tax advantages when we buy electrical or hybrid powered cars. Our gracious do and be good for the planet government subsidised the obese Mitsubishi Otlander PHEV, which on paper appears to be a miracle for the planet but in real life is an obese gas-guzzlimg monster.
Tesla’s were bought by the thousands, again heavily sponsored, especially as a company car since we have in incomprehensive but oh so expensive tax system for people who drive company cars.
However this year the government has stopped sponsoring the purchase of electrical vehicles and -Ow we did not see this one coming- prices for charging your electric vehicles are going through the roof.
To give you an indication, as our polit bureau has decided that Diesel is the devil’s fuel, I paid a staggering $ 1900 per year for road taxation for an Alfa Romeo 159 JtdM Diesel,
So all I can say that electric cars are mostly used to get tax advantages and their users can tell everybody they are ‘Saving the planet’.
But I personally am a Carlinist (George Carlin 1937 – 2008) who said that the planet is fine, but the people are f@@ked and most amazing thing about people is that if you repeat the same message over and over, they not only believe you, but even start proclaiming the messafe they’ve been told.
Je suis Diesel!
NZ has a punitive system for diesel cars called the Road User Charge or RUC for short prepaid based on mileage $75 per 1000kms I actually spend more on RUCs than diesel plus because some idiot has deemed my diesel powered C5 less safe than a petrol powered version registration is higher,
There is no car RUC tax rate it was first devised for commercial vehicles and the lightest category is 3 tonne so thats the rate cars are charged at, Little surprise the Xsara I gave my daughter has low mileage I ran it without the speedo connected for 7 years full mechanical fuel injection had that advantage but having driven both Citroens 340kms each last Monday I do prefer the newer one yes it lacks the throw it at corners ability of the Xsara but its hard to beat the ride comfort.
Actually what the immortal George Carlin went on to say in that bit is “The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone.” At the rate things are going….
An interesting collection. I have had photos of a Think City in my stash for several years and have never gotten around to writing it up. I had forgotten about the Elkhart, Indiana angle.
And that Galaxie 500 is the range-topping XL model, as given away by the little oval emblem at the trailing edge of the side trim. That would have the cool buckets and console inside. But it apparently makes do with a little 289 V8 under the hood, judging from the lack of a callout on the front fender. Or maybe a 352?
Imagination not required for the Galaxie rumble I regularly see a white one aronud here doing its summer cruising, A friend of mine actually the first friend I made at 5 years old when starting school has one of those PHEV Outlanders he loves it, Hes had it a few years now and has had zero problems it goes well rides ok and is well equipped with a multi stage regenerative braking system that operates a bit like a retarder fitted to heavy trucks, EVs are becoming more popular here in Aotearoa despite our high electricity prices I’m noticing more in traffic daily used Leafs ex JDM are the most common and relatively cheap to buy or you can shop new from various manufacturers who include an EV in their lineup, Tesla and Hyundai seem to be the range kings.
I never knew the Think existed, despite their Indiana production I nave never seen one in the Chicago area in as many years. So Smart, IQ, and Think, eh? Makers sure did like to use sanctimonious names in this little segment.
Yes, for all the good it did them.
Think was an early Norwegian EV. Ford owned a slice for a few years and they developed Think’s space frame / ABS panel construction together.
When the City came out it was state of the art lithium, motor and electronics. High priced but sold a few in Europe. They set up US production in Elkhart just in time for Tesla and Leaf to hit the market. Think was way outclassed by Leaf at a similar price. So that was it. Bankrupt.
They had a couple hundred Citys in inventory that were sold in Portland at a deep discount. So that’s why they’re here.
I do enjoy the comments here about the electric cars as well as those about various government schemes to get us to behave properly. Thanks.
At the annual Fountain Hills Concours show today there was, for the first time, a Tesla section. I ignored that and instead enjoyed my time talking to the various owners about Morris Minor, Citroen DS, MGC-GT, Mercedes 300SL roadster, ’58 Impala convertible and Ferrari 365GTC.
Don’t like these electric cars; don’t care about them. They are anything but “classic”. This petrolhead can’t become an electronerd.
What Teslas could there possibly be at the Concours that aren’t viewable in many upscale mall showrooms around America? Think what you want about Tesla, I think it’s plain weird that new/current production cars are at a Concours, they really shouldn’t even be at Cars and Coffee type events either.
An example of the original Tesla Roadster might be somewhat interesting in that setting but none of the current production models for sure.
Jim: Yes, of course. This show has changed so much over the 6 or 7 years I have been attending. The original sponsor was the local Ferrari club – Scuderia Southwest. There were zero Camaros, Mustangs, current cars and the like. It has been and is a benefit for a local children’s hospital.
It has devolved into a very commercial event. That’s fine; I am a capitalist. But if you pay your entry fee (now up to $60) you and your car are welcome. So to show off your Tesla or Jeep or Impala SS; c’mon down. 1,000+ cars this year. I had to look for the great stuff, but it was there.
Peter is the original sponsor; he is a great guy and works very hard. He knows and loves cars but somehow the exclusivity has disappeared (Peter knows fine cars; he had been discrete in selection) and the event now allows a long row of Teslas and other current vehicles in. Again, no longer “classic”. That word describes why I am visiting this site.
The free Volta Chargers have popped up in a few places around here recently. I’ve plugged my wife’s Energi in a couple of times, they are Level 2 (220v) units and they do turn off after 45 min. So you aren’t getting a lot of miles. But hey they are free so what the heck. They do say on their website that they are installing DC Fast Chargers, but not around the Seattle area at this time.
Seattle City Light has recently installed several charging stations, but with a difference. They’re trying to get an idea of how much power might be needed as EVs become more common.