PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Non-profit electric vehicle advocacy group Drive Oregon will open an EV education center and showroom in downtown Portland, after receiving a $993,450 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The center will be located adjacent to Electric Avenue at the World Trade Center, where Portland General Electric maintains its headquarters.
“It’s been in the works for some time,” says Drive Oregon’s Executive Director Jeff Allen. “Most of these grants are focused on more technical areas, but there was one category that was focused on the idea of showcasing electric vehicles and consumer engagement.”
The showroom will be similar to a car dealer’s showroom, but there will be a few critical differences.
“The idea is that we’re going to have access to all the different types of electric vehicles and charging technology,” Allen says, “and we’re going to have staff and volunteers who are trained and knowledgeable to talk about the different kinds of vehicles available. Then if you decide you want to buy a vehicle, we will hand you off to a dealer to close the sale.”
Drive Oregon is committed to making the showroom an educational and experiential center to show consumers the full range of available electric-powered vehicles.
“We think we’re in the sweet spot where we’re selling the whole product category, but we’re brand-neutral,” Allen insists. “We’re knowledgeable about the technology, so we can help people make a decision that works for them. It’s a little less pressure.”
In addition to providing education about electric vehicles, Drive Oregon plans to offer both short-term and extended driving experiences.
“You can do a test drive, or if you want, you can rent one of our cars for a week and see how it works for you,” Allen says.
The vehicles in the Drive Oregon showroom will come from a variety of sources, including local dealers who will partner with Drive Oregon for the project.
“We have a partnership with Tonkin,” Allen says.
The Tonkin dealership group represents 22 brands, including electric vehicle heavyweights like Chevrolet, Fiat, Nissan, Kia, and soon Hyundai, with its upcoming Ioniq EV.
“We’ll be working out similar relationships with other dealerships in the area,” Allen says. “And there will be some cars that we lease or that we get directly from the automakers.”
Allen is not yet certain whether that list of automakers will include the fashionable upstart Tesla brand.
“We certainly want to talk about Tesla, but we need to sit down and find how we can best work with them,” he says.
Even though Drive Oregon will be working to sell electric cars, the non-profit will not receive any payment from the dealers for creating a sale.
“We don’t want to get into a position where people are feeling pressured, or where we’re incentivized to drive them into a particular model,” Allen says.
Some Strings Attached
The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy is set to provide almost $1 million over three years to support the showroom project, but the grant is conditional on Drive Oregon raising a similar amount from other sources. That money may be in the form of donations and support or in-kind contributions.
“The World Trade Center, which is owned by PGE, is making the space available at subsidized rent for us,” Allen explains.
Drive Oregon has several programs under development to help raise the matching funds.
“We have lots of different ways,” Allen says. “There’s the physical showroom, and there’s a mobile showroom so we can have pop-up events in partnership with local utilities and business partners, and there’s a virtual showroom that will hopefully have a very nimble marketing campaign.”
Drive Oregon plans to reach out to vehicle fleets, employers, and other key markets to promote electric car driving.
“Long term,” Allen says, “one of the things that we want to explore is if we demonstrate that we can improve sales, is that something the dealers or automakers would help underwrite?”
Drive Oregon does not know the exact date when they will open the physical showroom, but they have announced a target of April, 2017 for the first phase of this program.
Test drive an EV
Almost every EV available in Oregon will be on hand this Saturday in a local National Drive Electric Week event.
It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lowries Marketplace, 30299 S.W.Boones Ferry Road in Wilsonville.
Visitors can try out a Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Spark, BMW i3, Audi A3 e-tron, Kia Soul EV, Hyundai Sonata Plug-in or Volkswagen e-Golf.
They can also learn about tax credits for EVs, charging stations at home and elsewhere, and see Tesla’s Roadster, Model S and Model X.