Now Playing:


Environment | Economy

Nissan Brings Electric Car Prototype To Portland

Nissan will unveil a prototype of its new electric car in Portland Monday. As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the carmaker plans to introduce the new model in Oregon next year and then market it worldwide in 2012.

Governor Ted Kulongoski and the president of Portland General Electric, Jim Piro, are scheduled to be the first Oregonians to drive the prototype — at the port Monday morning.

Nissan is targeting Oregon as an introductory market because the state has the highest per capita number of hybrid owners in the nation.

Elaina Medina is with PGE, which is helping to build a network of charging stations up and down the Willamette Valley.

Elaina Medina: “The cars will be around town. They’ll be here in Portland at the Port. They’ll also be down in Salem. And what Nissan and PGE and the state is really doing is inviting the folks who will be purchasing those cars out to test-drive them. So we’re inviting fleet managers, companies who have large fleets of vehicles. And our goal is to really let those folks see that these are real cars.”

What she means by "real cars" is that they’re not the tiny "bubble cars" that used to be associated with electric vehicles; that they seat five people; and that they can travel more than 40 miles between charges.

Nissan is a latecomer to the electric vehicle market.

Its plan has been to sign a "memorandum of understanding" with Oregon. The company will launch its car here and in exchange Oregon, PGE and several other large companies will build a network of charging stations.

Tony Markel is an electric car expert at the federal government’s National Renewable Energy Lab. He says marketing electric cars is difficult because of the batteries.

Tony Markel: “The technology has rapidly evolved in the last few years in terms of the battery technology. But we still don’t have all the information to be confident that you can build a product that will last the 10 or 15 year life that most consumers would expect that product to last.”

So buyers may have to sign complicated lease deals where they buy the car, but not the battery.

Just how Nissan is going to structure its deals may become a little clearer Monday. Then Tuesday, the governor and the CEO of a Norwegian electric car maker have scheduled a press conference.

Oregon is one of seven states vying for the company to build a factory for its small car in the United States.