Oregon Wants Electric Car Makers

Gov. Ted Kulongoski is hoping to attract Toyota and Chinese car maker BYD to produce or test their electric cars in Oregon.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Toyota City, Japan's equivalent to Detroit, has 10,000 engineers and turns out electric cars Gov. Ted Kulongoski would like to see produced in Oregon.

He leaves this weekend on a trade mission to Japan and China with thoughts of displaced Freightliner employees making the cars here.

At the least, he would like to test making electric cars produced by Toyota and Chinese car maker BYD and a launch site for such cars made by Nissan.

The trade mission, Kulongoski's sixth as governor, aims not only to pursue green vehicles but to renew contacts with Asian companies already doing business in Oregon as the state's economy struggles.

He may have an agreement in the works with one of the three automakers he'll visit during the weeklong trip. But Toyota Motor says that while testing could be possible in Oregon, a manufacturing plant is unlikely at least for now.

"We have no intention of building a new plant anywhere," said Akihiko Nakaoka, project manager in overseas department No. 1 of Toyota's global external affairs division.

"The situation is not good timing," said Shunji Yoshida, project general manager of the same department.

The managers spoke last week after Toyota predicted that fiscal 2009 sales would fall 8 percent from the year before to 8.2 million vehicles.

Toyota is doing better than American automakers but nervousness pervades Japan's car capital.

Kulongoski can pitch Oregon as the No. 1 hybrid-car state per capita and Portland as the U.S. Prius sales capital.

He'll describe his proposals to shift state tax credits from hybrids to new plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles and will probably note that Toyota U.S.A. chose Portland in September for an internationally billed "sustainable mobility seminar."

He'll describe new Oregon plug-in stations that will enable electrics to drive from the coast to Idaho or from Washington to California.

Toyota already ships hundreds of thousands of vehicles to the Port of Portland each year. The port also would like Nissan to ship through Portland.

Other states also are courting Nissan.

"I need a manufacturing plant and a research-and-development facility in the United States because it's the biggest market," said Masahiko Otsuka, Automotive Energy Supply president. But a plant expansion in Japan and factory construction in Europe will likely come first, Otsuka said.

Officials are bracing for job losses in Toyota City, where almost half the work force makes cars.

"We are quite worried about the future," said Toshifumi Kuroyanagi, the city's public-affairs director.

Like Detroit, its sister city, Toyota City depends on autos. Car ownership is higher here than in other Japanese cities.

Patrick Reiten, who will accompany Kulongoski with other business leaders, faces renewable-energy mandates as president of Pacific Power. Reiten, chairman of the governor's Transportation Vision Committee, believes that someday Portland workers could complete assembly of Asian-brand cars.

Pacific Power is beginning to install electric-vehicle charging equipment for companies and the Port of Portland. China's BYD has already chosen the Port of Long Beach as its primary U.S. car-import hub, Reiten said.

"But there is potential for a secondary import hub in Portland," he said.