Downtown Portland center lets people test-drive EVs with no sales pressure.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jeff Allen shows how an electric vehicle works at an interactive display in his organization's new EV showroom in downtown Portland.The future of electric vehicles is uncertain in the United States because of continuing low gas prices and the election of President Donald Trump, who has promised to relax federal vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. But local EV supporters are continuing to push for them with the opening Wednesday of the nation's first independent mainstream EV showroom in downtown Portland.

The Go Forth Electric Showcase is located in a formerly unused retail space at One World Trade Center, on the corner of Southwest First Avenue and Taylor Street. It is operated by the EV advocacy group Forth, which is the new name of Drive Oregon.

"Electric vehicles are a better transportation choice because they don't pollute and have fewer moving parts that must be maintained," says Jeff Allen, the organization's executive director.

The showroom currently offers two all-electric vehicles and one plug-in hybrid for test drives. It also has hands-on educational displays that show how EVs work, how they are recharged, and where public charging stations are currently available in Oregon and the rest of the United States.

"We don't sell vehicles to the public. Our mission is to educate the public about their advantages in a non-pressure environment," Allen says.

Drive Oregon started in 2010 as an EV-related economic development program supported by Prosper Portland. It received funding from the 2011 Oregon Legislature through Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency. Today it is funded primarily by membership dues, foundations and the proceeds of the annual EV Roadmap conference it sponsors. Other activities include lobbying, networking and pilot projects.

The showroom was funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Its goal is to double electric vehicle sales in Oregon in the next three years.

As consumer interest has grown over the years, a number of dealerships have opened in Portland selling mostly Chinese-made EVs that cannot legally be driven on streets with speed limits above 35 miles per hour. The new showroom features cars from major manufacturers that have passed all federal safety tests for freeway driving.

The pure electric vehicles currently available for test drives include a Chevy Bolt, which can go over 230 miles on a full charge of electricity, and a Nissan Leaf. Also available is a Ford C-Max Energi, which can go 19 miles on electricity alone before switching over to a conventional hybrid mode. An electric bicycle is also available for test rides.

The location of the showroom is appropriate, at a hub of EV activity in Portland. The World Trade Center includes the headquarters of Portland General Electric, which has been very supportive of EVs.

The utility underwrote the relocation of Electric Avenue, a string of public charging stations that was moved from Portland State University property to Southwest First Avenue and Salmon Street, just around the corner from the showroom.

The EV Roadmap conferences are also held in the center, although Allen says they may have to move to a larger location because attendance is growing so much every year. And the Northwest Automotive Press Association stages its annual Drive Revolution conference on alternative-fuel vehicles on the street directly in front of the showroom.

Drive Oregon recently changed its name to Forth for several reasons, Allen says. Among other things, it is now a national organization that is also involved in the development of autonomous vehicles, which means both words in the name were out of date. And, Allen says, the name Drive Oregon sounds like a government agency.

"The new name suggests moving forward, not third, fourth or fifth. And research shows people don't want government telling them what cars to drive," says Allen, who notes that EVs are favored by some autonomous vehicle developers because of their simplicity and reliance on a connected charging network.

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