Ford EVs Connect With Portland, GM Swings and Misses

· · 9 years ago

In advance of the launch of the Ford Transit Connect Electric van and other EVs, Ford started a 14-city promotional  tour in Portland, Oregon on Monday. Ford will sell limited numbers of Transit Connects later this year and electric Ford Focus' later in 2011. Ford is working with utilities, local government, and Portland State University to ensure that the city is ready with a charging infrastructure when the EVs arrive.

Portland is a natural fit for emissions-free driving. The mentality of its citizens is as a green as the ubiquitous coniferous trees, and the adoption of hybrids is among the highest in the nation.  Ford and Nissan recognize the opportunity to sell plug-in vehicles in the Northwest and have spent time and money marketing their vehicles in Oregon and Washington. Earlier this year, truck company Navistar chose Portland to unveil its eStar all-electric truck.

In choosing to invest time in Portland and make vehicles available here first, Ford will leverage a growing EV infrastructure.  Portland is a participant city in the DOE's EV Project, and the area will have 1,000 EV charge spots in place by July 2011, according to Portland General Electric's Charlie Allcock. Allcock said "some" of the 800,000 smart meters being deployed by PGE will be able to communicate with charging equipment. About one-third of PGE customers do not have a location at their primary residence for convenient home charging, a situation that Allcock said the utility is studying to find a solution.

Ford is also working with Microsoft so that the charging information that is collected wirelessly via the Sync platform used in its vehicles will be shared with the Redmond, Washington company's Hohm servers and made available online to Ford EV owners. Ford Manager of Electrification and Infrastructure Mike Tinskey said that the telematics system and Synch platform (which was launched in 2008) will be a differentiator for the vehicle, a reference to Nissan, which is creating a telematics and communications system for the Leaf.

The Northwest appears to be in General Motors' blind spot as the company is skipping over Portland and Seattle for its first shipment of the plug-in Chevrolet Volt, which won't be available in the region until sometime in 2012. GM representatives told me that the decision to sell first in states including California, New York and Connecticut (really?) was more about getting the maximum attention than satisfying the most rabid demand for EVs.

Representatives at Plug-in 2010 last month said that the company is "waging a media war" and felt that the other states had higher visibility in the press. GM is confident that because the Volt will be produced in such small numbers (only 40,000 through the end of 2012) that they'll sell out even if the Northwest isn't among the early areas to receive the cars.

While marketing to Times Square instead of Pioneer Square may serve GM in the short run, eschewing among the most adamant EV audiences that also will have the robust infrastructure for plugging in vehicles is short-sighted. By the time the Volt rolls into the Northwest, consumers will have alternatives from Mitsubishi, Toyota, Coda Automotive and Fisker Automotive to choose from. EV adoption is likely to cluster around largely coastal metropolitan hubs, and being the first Green on the block with an EV might require purchasing whatever is available at the time instead of queuing in a long line and hoping that a vehicle arrives. 

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