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Oregon Wants To Lead Electric Car Market

Governor hopes to gain a leading role for green-leaning Oregon, as a test market, a port-of-entry for electric cars, or a location for plants that make vehicles, batteries or chargers.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Gov. Ted Kulongoski kicks no tires, but he is giving a workout to the offerings of electric car manufacturers in hopes they will help Oregon lead the nation in switching from gasoline to electrons.

For the third time in recent weeks, Kulongoski took a spin Wednesday in an electric vehicle, this time a Mitsubishi, and one with a steering wheel on the right-hand side, at that.

"I kept turning on the windshield wipers," Kulongoski said after his test drive in downtown Portland -- where often, though not on this dry Wednesday, the wipers would be useful.

It won't be until 2011 or 2012 that Mitsubishi brings Americans a model with the steering wheel on the familiar left side, company officials said.

That will be beyond Kulongoski's tenure. His second term will draw to a close next year, and he's limited to two consecutive terms.

It will not be beyond his ambition for Oregon's motorists and economy -- he may be the governor most passionate about the vehicles. He hopes for a leading role for a green-leaning Oregon, as a test market, a port-of-entry for the cars, or a location for plants that make vehicles, batteries or chargers.

He went to Japan and China in November to court manufacturers, and take test drives.

He's backing bills in the Legislature to give buyers of all-electrics a $5,000 state tax credit and to provide business tax credits for charging stations. A few weeks ago, he held press conferences and drove electric models from Nissan and a Norwegian car named Think, whose maker is considering building a plant in Oregon.

He's signed agreements with Nissan and Mitsubishi and the state's largest utility, Portland General Electric, focusing on his administration's effort to create a network of charging stations.

State Department of Transportation officials say the widespread availability of electrons is a threshold issue among people contemplating plug-ins; they don't want to run out of juice.

Mitsubishi officials said the car Kulongoski drove Wednesday would have a range of 80 to 90 miles, about what a car with good gas mileage could do on two to three gallons.

As officials imagine electric driving, most charging would be done at night, at home. The secondary source of power would be at job sites -- in parking lots or garages.

Beyond that would be a third level of charging stations at, say, rest areas and other public places, "so that people begin to be comfortable that they will be able to get where they're going," said Art James, an Oregon Department of Transportation official managing the project.

The department has asked for proposals to create a standardized network of such stations and expects to complete that work this fall.

James said the stations would feature 240-volt connections, which Mitsubishi officials said would allow their all-electric to recharge fully in six to seven hours. A full recharge at the ordinary household force, 120 volts, would take twice as long, they said.

Efforts to create the infrastructure for electric cars are under way in other states, including California, Arizona and Tennessee.

Kulongoski said Wednesday that Oregon's next step would be to seek a share of $300 million in federal stimulus money set aside to promote purchases of electric cars and charging stations. He said he expects competition across the country to be strong.

The state has gotten about 70 expressions of interest from "public and private entities" who want to push the transition to electric vehicles, Kulongoski said.

He said the state will look for commitments to buy electric cars or install charging stations. Department of Transportation officials said that would be a way of providing the local money to match the federal dollars.

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