Oregon Proves Key To Electric Car Adoption Isn’t Necessarily Purchase Incentives

Talk about increasing the numbers of electric vehicles on the roads, and most people talk about offering the kind of large incentives and tax-breaks found in countries like Norway, where electric cars are now so popular they are no-longer considered niche-market vehicles. But while it’s true that financial plug-in car incentives can help boost electric car adoption rates in many places, the northwestern state of Oregon has one of the highest electric car adoption rates in the entire U.S. but doesn’t offer a dime in state tax credits or grants to plug-in vehicle owners. 

As guest writer Patrick Connor details however, Oregon’s plan to increasing adoption rates of electric cars is far more effective than simply throwing cash incentives around — and it’s a strategy that other states and countries could use to their own advantage. 

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Oregon’s Chief EV Officer recently laid out the plan that her state has been using to make EVs successful there and (spoiler alert) it is not big cash incentives.

This presentation was given at Canada’s largest EV conference, the EV2014VÉ Conference & Trade Show, in Vancouver, BC. Canada currently has aboot10,000 plug-in cars registered today and a nice projected growth curve shown below:

Electric car numbers in Canada are steadily on the rise

Electric car numbers in Canada are steadily on the rise

Back to “EVs The Oregon Way”. At the conference Oregon’s very own Chief EV Officer, my friend, Ashley Horvat from the Oregon Department Of Transportation, gave an overview of strategies that she’s using to promote EVs in the state. Below is my paraphrasing and elaboration of the presentation. I’d like to clarify that this is in no way a dictation of her presentation, it is, rather, ideas that she inspired or my interpretation of what she said.

Ashley Horvat is Oregon's Chief EV Officer

Ashley Horvat is Oregon’s Chief EV Officer

Point 1 – Infrastructure Increases the Utility (and Therefore the Value) of EVs

So if you find something insightful or clever below, it is something she said. If you find something erroneous or disagreeable, I get credit for that.

A recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) found that there are five states with EV sales which are 2-4 times higher than the national average. The states are Washington, California, Hawaii, Georgia, Oregon, and Colorado. The high EV sales can generally be correlated to state EV incentives. Washington waives a 6.5% sales tax (about $2000 on a $30,000 car), California has a $2500 incentive (plus HOV lane access), Hawai’i has a $4500 incentive, and Georgia has a whopping $5000 incentive for EVs.

It doesn’t take a study to know that reducing the price of something by thousands of dollars will increase sales. The one outlier state on this top-5 list, however, is Oregon. Oregon does not have a tax rebate for buying an EV*. All that Oregon has today is a small 25% incentive for a residential charging station (and you can skip the DEQ test).

Based on 2013 electric vehicle registration data provided by IHS Automotive

Based on 2013 electric vehicle registration data provided by IHS Automotive

* Oregon had a $750 EV incentive in 2011 and 2012, but this was discontinued in 2013.

How does Oregon make it on a list with states that offer $2000+ incentives? The state’s green ethoshelps, but the real reason is because of the EV charging infrastructure that’s in-place in Oregon today. This infrastructure makes EVs *more valuable* here.

Oregon (at least western Oregon, where most of the state’s population lives) is swimming in EV charging stations:

Oregon EV Charging Infrastructure, November 2014 (via PlugShare)

Oregon EV Charging Infrastructure, November 2014 (via PlugShare)

Having a vast EV charging infrastructure network, specifically a fast charge, means that EVs can go more places. They are not restricted to just what they can do with overnight charging. This makes them appeal to a larger segment of the car-buying population.

Incentives alone cannot increase the market size for EVs. Without an infrastructure to support them, EVs are only useful within a radius of 50% of their range. In such infrastructure barren areas battery electric EVs, even long range EVs, will only appeal to diehard few.

Tesla Motors understands this. That is why they are building a charging network across the US and in countries around the world to support their vehicles.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying EVs are worthless without infrastructure; just that they are more valuable with it. I drove an EV from 2007 until 2011 using home charging almost exclusively. It was great for commuting and errands and most of my annual miles were logged in my electric Chevy truck. Road trips, however, were out the the question. In 2011, when a Nissan Leaf replaced the electric truck, fast charge infrastructure allowed my to start taking trips like this one or this one.

EVs are not worthless without infrastructure.
They are just more valuable with it.

Think about it this way, if you were interested in buying something, and you were on the fence about it, there are two primary ways to convince you make the purchase: one, reduce the cost; two, increase the value. State incentives are the first method, deploying EV infrastructure is the second method.

Discounts can only get you so far. For example, if I offer to sell you dog food but you don’t have a dog, you are not likely to buy it, even if I offer it at half price. The product has to meet your needs. If you want people to spend their own money on a car, it has to be able to meet their transportation needs. Fast charge infrastructure enables EVs to meet many more transportation needs or scenarios.

Point 2 – Where You Put The Infrastructure Matters

Horvat told the story of the West Coast Electric Highway (WCEH) collaborative. Oregon, Washington, and California agreed to create the West Coast Electric Highway on Interstate 5 (I-5). I-5 is the major artery of the US west coast. On the ~1500 miles of I-5, you can drive from San Diego to Seattle while passing through all the major population centers of the West Coast. Making this a fast charge corridor enables much of the West Coast population to make EV roadtrips.

Oregon jumped into the WCEH project with both feet. Fast charge stations were installed every 30 to 40 miles along I-5 in Oregon. On July 4th 2012, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley set off on an all-electric border to border drive across Oregon.

Horvat didn’t stop there. Next she worked with Travel Oregon to find day trips to electrify. These scenic loops can be strung together to make longer drives. This effort put fast charging in the Columbia Gorge, the Oregon coastline, Mt. Hood, and Oregon Wine Country. This enabled EV tourism in the state without concerns about running out of charge.

Horvat pointed out that you need a deployment plan, “Don’t just give a charging station to the first place to raise their hand.”. In haste to deploy stations to spend grants or budgets by given deadlines, this happens all too often. A smattering of stations is not as useful as a well planned network.

Point 3 – Err on the Side of Action

There is no clear blueprint for mass deployment of EV infrastructure. Even when you do make detailed plans, there will be complications. It is important that you keep moving forward. One example in Oregon is the town of Elsie. This little town is between Portland and Seaside. It would be the perfect place for a fast charge station. However, they don’t have the needed electrical service. Routes to other beach towns: Astoria, Tillamook, and Lincoln City were established from Portland. Once you are on the coastline, there are charging station all along the coast as far south as Port Orford.

This makes Seaside accessible from Portland, not ideal, but still possible. Elsie would still be a good spot for a charging station and maybe one will eventually be installed there. We have not given up. Until then, there’s no point in complaining about it. It’s much better to make the most of the resources you’ve got. Make a plan and err on the side of action.

Point 4 – Have a Dedicated Mission Control

Achieving something like this is very involved. Doing it right is a fulltime job. There are permits, electrical service considerations, signs, site hosts, partners, grants, contractors, vendors, parts ordering, government agencies, money management… You need someone with project management skills. You need someone with people skills that site hosts can talk to when they have questions. You need someone to drive consistency. You need single point of contact, a single voice of direction. In Oregon’s case, that voice is Ashley Horvat, the EV Chief Officer at the Oregon Department of Transportation.

You also have to document things. Procedures need to be written down and lessons learned need to be applied the next time a charging station is planted. Horvat has published white-papers explaining the methods that Oregon has used and she gives presentations at conferences like this one in Canada.

Jerome Kersey and Ashley Horvat on the Plug & Pinot Tour

Jerome Kersey and Ashley Horvat on the Plug & Pinot Tour


Point 5 – Create a Brand & a Consistent Experience

West Coast Electric Highway

Horvat and team created an appealing West Coast Electric Highway (WCEH) brand. They defined the experience for a WCEH charging locations. EV drivers should immediately recognize the signage, colors, and station design at every location. The procedures for charging is the same at every location. The charging stations themselves must stand out. There is always at least one CHAdeMO and one Level 2 station. Think Starbucks or McDonalds in terms of consistency. There are variations from location to location, but the standard menu items are always there.

Point 6 – Create Buzz

 She wrapped a presentation with a video about an Oregon marketing initiative: the Plug and Pinot Tour starring former Trail Blazer star Jerome Kersey. Horvat persuaded this towering 6’7″ athlete to take a Nissan Leaf on an electrified Oregon wine tasting tour. The routes were published and the wineries offered free charging. A small herd of EVs caravanned from one winery to the next, sipping pinot while they charged and reporters snapped pictures. The effort was supported and promoted by several wineries and the story showed up in several local news outlets announcing that EV tourism had come to Oregon.
Jerome Kersey pluggin in on the Plug & Pinot Tour, with solar panels and grape fields in the background.

Jerome Kersey pluggin in on the Plug & Pinot Tour, with solar panels and grape fields in the background.

In Summary

More than just cash incentives can be used to increase EV sales. In fact, direct incentives may not even be the best use of public funds if mass adoption is the goal. A robust, reliable EV charging network increases the number of car buyers that will consider buying an EV.

If you want EVs to be popular in your region/state, then that local government has to take EV-policy seriously from the Governor down to the local administrator. You need focused EV leadership that can establish direction and drive consistency.

Err on the Side of Action. A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. Get something done and talk about it. Create a brand and buzz. EVs are an exciting new technology that offer a new way to power personal transportation. This is a once-in-a-lifetime transformation. Tell the story.

This post first appeared on Patrick’s own CarsWithCords blog, and is reproduced here with permission.

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  • MEroller

    That is indeed something Germany could also learn from, similarly being an almost EV-incentive-free zone. But even though such “electric highways” via fast charging stations are beginning to pick up momentum here, the BIG mistake is that the infamous DC-quick-charging standards battle has a very clear loser and casualty here in Germany: Only DC-quick-charging stations sporting a CCS plug get some financial support from the state, but as soon as a CHAdeMO Plug is added all support subisdes. This practically grounds all electric car pioneers with their Mitsubishi i-MiEVs (and French derivatives), Nissan Leafs and E-NV200s :-(nnIn a recent Interview of electrive with Uwe Beckmeyer, the parlamentary state secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, he justified this policy by saying that his ministry was just establishing European law in Germany, as the European Comission, being highly biased “by virtue” of massive lobbying by in particular the German Automotive industry towards actually forbidding installation of new CHAdeMO rapid charging stations from the end of 2018 onwards. Now 2018 is still a good 3 years down the road, but with this German policy all installation of rapid multiple standard charging stations that include CHAdeMO is solely left to die-hard idealisits 🙁

    • Martin

      In Scotland all new rapid chargers have to be triple standard. CHAdeMO to suit Japanese cars, CCS to suit German cars and 400v 3 phase AC which suits Renault and Tesla cars. Are the CHAdeMO free chargers still equipped with 400v 3 phase AC? In terms of cost per unit this is a much more economical solution than DC chargers of either type.

      • MEroller

        Yes, the “politically correct” rapid chargers have 400V 3-phase and CCS

  • Dennis Pascual

    Thanks for the article. nnMy wife and I were inspired by Ashley Horvat’s Plug and Pinot tour and are flying into PDX December 12-14th but was disappointed to find out that no one rents EVs at the airport. The closest EV rental was Enterprise about nine miles away. Seeing that I have a really short amount of time and would like to maximize my pick up and drop off of the rental, I’ve opted to go ICE. I actually sent tweets to OEVA.org and Ashley Horvat’s Twitter accounts for assistance and got some help from @FlyPDX to find the same EV rental agency that I found online.nnStill going to enjoy the Pinot, just not the plug… It’s a shame, ’cause the zoomed in Plugshare shot of Portland (https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15224313854/) is quite impressive.nnnnPerhaps next time.

    • Portland all-electric cab service http://goo.gl/CXQ4iy nTeslaTrips.com nPortland Car2Go http://www.car2go.com/en/portland nGetaround Portland http://www.getaround.com/pdxnPortland Enterprise Electric Car Rentals http://goo.gl/7j5aBq

      • Dennis Pascual

        Thanks Patrick. None of those provide a solution that allows me to pick up a rental car at the airport and drop off at the airport.nnnBoth the electric cab service and teslatrips.com are not self-drive and will be pricey for the weekend.nnnGetaround requires a FB account. I’m not on FB and don’t want to start just for a peer-to-peer car rental option.nnnThe last one IS the one that is 8-9 miles from the airport.nnnI’m in for the weekend for around 48 hours. The fact is the EV infrastructure in Oregon is such that I should be able to rent an EV at the airport (like in Honolulu or Orlando (theoretically, I say theoretically ’cause though I keep trying to do that on other trips, it’s always booked.))

  • BEP

    Great idea, drive your car around and drink wine at every stop…nI’m joking. Nice article, and congratulations to Ashley Horvat for her work.

  • Carl Anton Stenling

    A lesson learnt from the Nordic countries is that the price of an electric vehicle has to be similar to an ordinary vehicle. Infrastructure is of little use when the price disadvantage is overwhelming. Norway and Denmark respectively demonstrates this. Denmark has all the infrastructure but low sales. Norway has inadequate infrastructure, good EV prices and 12 % of the new car sales are EVs.nThe conclusion is that Oregons approach will simply not work. You have to tax the polluting cars so that the price difference is minimal.

    • As the story mentions, you don’t need a study to determine that cash incentives will increase EV sales; so I agree with you there. Oregon is unique in many ways. And as you said, there is no guarantee that the methods used in Oregon will work everywhere, but it is *worth consideration*. nnnHere are several reasons that EV work well in Oregon: nnReason 1: The 100 Mile Corridor – The bulk of Oregon’s population is clustered along the northern 100 miles of Interstate 5. This allows most trips within the state to be well within an EV’s range.nnReason 2: Infrastructure – Covered above in detail. nnReason 3: Abundant clean electricity – 85% of Oregon’s electricity is renewably generated. The electric utilities here are happy to see EVs on the road that use their product and create an increased demand predominantly at off-peak times. nnReason 4: Staycation destinations – Mt Hood, the Pacific coast, Columbia River Gorge, Forest Park, covered bridge tours in Cottage Grove, cherry blossom tours, scenic river byways, the Oregon Dunes, beer & wine tours and much more are all within the range of an EV in NW Oregon.nnReason 5: Pioneering Spirit – Oregon is known for trailblazing. Adopting the new technology of plug-in transportation is not daunting for the high-tech pioneering folks of Oregon. nnReason 6: Battery-Friendly Weather – A typical year in NW Oregon has very few days that are below freezing and even fewer days that are over 100u00b0F. This makes the region’s climate great for maintaining EV battery range and capacity.nnReason 7: Economy – Oregon has zero oil wells and zero oil refineries. This means that the bulk of every dollar spent on gasoline here leaves the state. Electricity, on the other hand, is generated locally and fueling money spent on it stay local. More than 300 EV related firms in Oregon have created nearly 1600 jobs in the state.nnReason 8: Cooperation – Oregon’s business community, state & local governments, environmental community, and utilities all see EVs as a path to a better, more prosperous state. nnReason 9: Eco Ethos – Oregon has more than its fair share of treehuggers. While you don’t need to be a granola cruncher to drive an EV, this green enthusiastic base has created a market for eco-friendly cars in the region.nnhttp://goo.gl/wMYtG

      • Carl Anton Stenling

        Most of the favorable points you mention also applies to Denmark and this has not helped the EV sales much. The main problem is that only the enthusiasts are willing to pay 25 % extra for an electric vehicle. Instead of cash incentives I think it is necessary to tax ordinary vehicles, but this is obviously politically difficult in the US. How high percentage of car sales in Oregon are EVs?

        • I agree that raising the price of gas cars would likely be just as effective as lowering the price of plug-ins. Their relative price is what matters. For mass adoption, we’ll need both infrastructure and good prices.

  • Martin

    Its good that a network of chargers has been built across Oregon, I wonder why the other states north and south didn’t complete the network so that you could drive from Mexico to Canada?

  • Mike Salisbury

    Patrick-excellent article and very useful for thinking how to increase sales in the Southwestern states I work in. One additional variable that helps Oregon (at least to some extent) is that they are a ZEV mandate state. While this doesn’t guarantee sales it does seem to positively correlate with top selling states. Thanks!