Saturday, November 29, 2008

Will Oregon Become The "New Detroit" Of The Electric Car?

Oregon's Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski is committed to working with Nissan Motors of Japan to dramatically increase the flow Nissan cars through the Port Of Portland, which is already a main shipping hub for Japanese cars and a plan to possibly use the former Freightliner truck assembly plant in Oregon as a main production site for Nissan to build electric cars in big numbers in the near future.

These plans could mean that Oregon could become the "New Detroit" of the electric car in the very near future, where most of the imports and domestic production of electric cars could be centered in Oregon for the entire U.S. market for Nissan. The Governor also has plans to build electric recharging stations throughout the state to allow for recharging of the batteries to encourage consumers to purchase electric cars. And while Oregon offers a $1500 tax credit to hybrid buyers, there are plans to allow a $5000 tax credit for buyers of all-electric cars.

The history of the electric car is actually far longer than most realize. Back as far back as 1832, there were some early German experiments in producing electric automobiles. But in the early 1900's some regular production electric cars such as the Baker Electric were available for sale. Even car collector Jay Leno owns a 100 year old example of a Baker Electric automobile in his collection of cars.

It is amazing to think that battery technology was actually good enough 100 years ago to make electric cars practical back in those days, but it was good enough that the Baker cars were reasonably good in that respect. It was however a fragile design where serious damage to the car's suspension would occur due to bad road conditions in those days that really killed off the Baker cars more than anything, and not the state of battery technology for that period. Certainly modern electric cars have advanced a great deal since then, as well as road conditions have greatly improved. Now Nissan has some advanced battery technology as well as other electronic advancements not available 100 years ago that make the modern electric car far more viable than in the past.

Detroit has had some modern experiments into electric cars, including Ford and GM, however it is Nissan that is ready to have a 2010 model year electric car ready for mass production. And Oregon's governor is banking on the notion that a revival of the electric car will also revive the Oregon economy and perhaps even make Oregon the "New Detroit" of the electric car. But despite some advantages, and some big disadvantages, the electric car has just never really caught on with consumers. And Nissan which is also part of Renault has never really been as big of a marketing success in the U.S. as Toyota or Honda have been. Toyota and Honda have been more associated with both quality and technical advancement than Nissan in the minds of many buyers, so Nissan would have to turn around the thinking of many buyers who have not as seriously considered their products as have the more loyal buyers of Toyota and Honda products.

There are so many marketing "ifs" involved if the modern electric car is to become a success in the future. Can Nissan improve it's marketing share in the U.S? Will the new electric cars have a long range and be reliable compared to hybrids like the Toyota Prius? Oregon's governor might believe that the electric car is the wave of the future, but still others like Toyota believe in extreme hybrid models or GM believes that a hydrogen fuel cell automobile may be the future wave. But the fact of history is that the electric car has never sold very well, and has remained for the most part just an automotive oddity. But both Nissan and Oregon hope that will all change. Maybe. Maybe not.


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