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Wilsonville Drive Electric Week event draws dozens of EV owners, dealers

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville resident and Honda Fit EV owner Shirley Woods shows off her Fit Saturday at a National Drive Electric Week event at Lamb's Thriftway. It was almost certainly the quietest car show you could hope to attend.

Even though vehicles constantly were coming and going, the only real noise that could be heard was the sound of rubber tires meeting the road. Oh, and the excited voices of drivers testing exotic new vehicles also was quite distinct.

And why not? It’s not every day people can test-drive a BMW and Mercedes or get a first-hand look at the relatively rare Tesla, all in the same location. Yet, that’s exactly what participants in Saturday’s National Drive Electric Week event at Lamb’s Thriftway in Wilsonville were enjoying.

“It’s a fun car to drive, it’s a big car,” said Doug Bullard, who spent a good chunk of the afternoon showing off his Tesla Model S sedan, which contains no interior dials, knobs or other controls. Instead, the entire car is controlled electronically through a large, central touch screen. The only direct input a driver has is through the steering wheel.

“I get a lot of questions,” Bullard admitted. “People come up to me on the street and they don’t even know it’s electric, and they say ‘That’s a beautiful car, man!’ And it is!”

Gary Exner, organizer of the inaugural Wilsonville EV event, which featured several dozen electric cars, both private and dealer owned, said it was one of over 100 across the nation.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A Tesla Model S owned by Portland resident Doug Bullard drew swarms of visitors Saturday at a National Drive Electric Week EV exhibition at Lamb's Thriftway in Wilsonville. “How I came to start this one is I have an electric car,” Exner said. “And I got back from vacation and said ‘I want to register for one of those (Drive Electric) events.”

Exner, however, had trouble finding information online for a Portland event scheduled for the PSU campus downtown. So he shelved the registration route and instead created his own event.

“I thought, ‘Hey I should get one going,’” Exner said. “And the number of public chargers in Wilsonville made it a natural location.”

A plethora of electric cars were displayed Saturday in the parking lot outside Lamb’s in Wilsonville’s Town Center Square. Many of the cars seen there did not exist just four years ago.

Today, the United States leads the world in electric vehicle sales, with over 250,000 plug-in cars — a category that includes hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles — sold since 2008. California alone accounts for 100,000 of those.

In terms of pure electric vehicles, the United States remains second to Japan with a 26 percent share of the global market.

Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen represents the Wilsonville area as part of his district. He said his 2013 Chevy Volt has reduced his monthly gasoline bill by 90 percent.

“As a Metro councilor I do a lot of running around,” Dirksen said.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A Smart Car EV takes off for a test drive with an excited driver at the wheel Saturday at a National Drive Electric Week event at Lamb's Thriftway in Wilsonville. The Volt, which employs a small gasoline “range extender” engine on top of a battery that gives him roughly 40 miles per charge, has so far proved to be a steady daily driver.

“Most of that (driving) is in the city,” he said. “I actually have a little computer app and you can download stuff from your car, and over the 20 months I’ve owned the car I’ve been on electric power alone 86 percent of the time.”

Dirksen said he refills his eight-gallon range extender gas tank perhaps every three months.

“It ended up being a big cost savings for me,” he said. “My electric bill went up about $16 or $17 a month, so I’m saving well over $250 a month in just fuel costs. It’s been great for that.”

A general rule of thumb, Exner said, is that electric vehicle owners experience a 75 percent drop in day-to-day operating costs compared with a gasoline powered car or truck. With no gasoline, oil or transmission-related costs to consider, this is not surprising.

“The perception is ‘How do I fill up during the day?’” Exner said. “And the reality is you don’t fill up during the day, you fill up when you go home at night and plug in.”

At the same time, there are the intangibles.

Just ask Bullard. His Tesla is as much of the luxury sedan as the Jaguars, Mercedes and BMWs it competes against. But for him, it’s a lot more than that.

“I’ve been following Tesla back when they were doing roadsters,” he said. “Then they started working on this, and I’ve wanted to look at EVs for a long time.”

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A Nissan Leaf does not take on fuel like the cars youre used to seeing. This is the electric port where the Leaf EV recharges its battery, good for 100 miles or so. A self-professed fan of the ill-fated General Motors EV1, which briefly surfaced in the late 1990s before being nixed, Bullard said he test drove a Model S in May 2012 and took delivery of his own in February 2013. It was worth the wait.

“This drives very much like a German sedan, it’s very solid and has a good solid feel,” he said. “There’s lots of get up and go.”

In switching to an electric car, Bullard also shed $2,000 in annual maintenance on an aging Audi A4.

“This (Tesla) has a lot more upfront cost, but it’s cheaper to drive,” he said. “It’s also clean; in the Northwest, most of our power comes from hydro power, so it’s nice to have that feeling of, yeah, I am being as clean as I can be.”

The Tesla stands apart from other current EVs in that it has a range of up to 260 miles on a single battery charge. Other EVs, including the Leaf or BMW i3, all have ranges under 100 miles per charge.

That, along with price, continues to be a hold up for people looking to dive into the EV market, admitted Todd Lanstrum, an IT specialist for Cadillac of Portland who was busy Saturday at Lamb’s showing off a $68,000 Cadillac ELR hybrid.

“It’s the biggest holding point right now for people who are getting into it,” Lanstrum said.

But with an ever-expanding infrastructure of public and private charging stations, as well as growing public demand for EVs, he added, the future looks good for this segment of the market.

“You can look at all the different car companies that are out there, and they’ve definitely exploded onto the market,” Lanstrum said.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A Mercedes B-Class electric car was on display Saturday at a National Drive Electric Week event at Lamb's Thriftway in Wilsonville. Wilsonville resident Shirley Woods is one of those people who noticed early on. She and her husband saw a Honda Fit EV driven by a friend last year in California. By October she was on Honda’s waiting list for her own Fit as part of a test program involving just 1,100 hand-built Fit electric cars.

“I finally felt the testosterone feel toward this, just like it does in those things there,” Woods said, pointing to a passing Dodge Ram pickup truck complete with sizable lift kit.

“Only this is different,” she added with a laugh. “It’s ‘saving money’ testosterone.”

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - National Drive Electric Week event organizer Gary Exner (left) is shown here at the event Saturday with Wilsonville electric car owner Shirley Woods.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - These are the guts of a BMW i3 electric car: no gas, no radiator, no transmission and no oil changes. The $42,000 i3 was introduced in May, part of a growing segment of the auto industry.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A pair of Smart fortwo electric cars were at the Sept. 20 National Drive Electric Week event in Wilsonville.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A Tesla Model S is shown at the Sept. 20 National Drive Electric Week event in Wilsonville.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Named for the legendary inventor, the Tesla company is making waves in the auto industry with its luxurious electric vehicles.

By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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