Drive Oregon goes Forth: new name, broader mission, more states

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Honda Fit EV at launch, Northeast Portland community electric car sharing program  [PhotosByKim LLC]

Honda Fit EV at launch, Northeast Portland community electric car sharing program [PhotosByKim LLC]

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Oregon is a state that punches well above its weight in promoting and adopting zero-emission vehicles and plug-in electric cars.

Smaller than California, it offers a laboratory where EV makers can try out new programs and experiment with new marketing and charging programs to see how they work.

That was the pitch, at least, from the state-funded Drive Oregon advocacy group, which mounts the influential "EV Roadmap" conference in Portland each summer.

CHECK OUT: Oregon's Pitch To Electric-Car Industry: Come Test New Stuff Here! (Nov 2015)

With its state funds due to end this summer, the group is now changing its name, expanding its horizons, and broadening its mission to encompass the multiple trends that are transforming personal transport.

As of last Thursday, the former Drive Oregon is now Forth, a name that underscores its new role in advising on programs that move transportation into the future.

"We are changing our name to better reflect our expanded geographic footprint, our expanded scope, and our consumer engagement work through the Showcase project," said executive director Jeff Allen.

Electric Avenue charging stations in Portland, Oregon [photo: Portland General Electric]

Electric Avenue charging stations in Portland, Oregon [photo: Portland General Electric]

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First, that expanded footprint: with funding from the state of Oregon, the group's activities were necessarily limited to within the state.

Now, it plans to expand its efforts into Washington state to the north—which has had no group exactly like Forth—and potentially further afield to other states in the future, as opportunities arise.

Second, the old Drive Oregon had largely focused on electrifying personal transport and shared vehicles, with a large part of its activities within the greater Portland area.

READ THIS: Portland storefront funded for electric-car marketing, pop-up roadshows (Sep 2016)

Now it's adding the other three factors that, combined with electrification, will change the nature of personal vehicles over the next 15 years: autonomous (and near-autonomous) self-driving cars, connectivity (in which cars are always able to send and receive data via a mobile link), and sharing.

The nature of those projects has yet to be determined, but Portland has a longstanding culture of carsharing, including electric vehicles, so there's a strong base of experience on which to build.

Third and finally, there's the Showcase project, about which we'll hear more shortly.

Rendering of future electric-car showcase in Portland, Oregon, operated by Forth (nee Drive Oregon)

Rendering of future electric-car showcase in Portland, Oregon, operated by Forth (nee Drive Oregon)

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Federally funded as of last September, the Showcase is a permanent location in downtown Portland that will showcase a variety of electric vehicles from different manufacturers, as well as charging equipment.

It will have a strong educational component, with the goal of promoting the benefits of electric cars to regional consumers.

If it proves successful, such a model could be replicated in other cities and states across the country.

DON'T MISS: Most electric-car-friendly U.S. cities: new ranking puts Portland on top

The U.S. Department of Energy gave a three-year grant of almost $1 million to Drive Oregon, to fund the storefront as part of a larger regional marketing campaign to promote electric cars and their multiple benefits within the region.

And that grant indicates Forth's future funding: a mix of grants from public entities, private foundations, and perhaps some work for profit-making service or equipment providers as well.

The expanded Forth, Allen says, will be "a national organization, grounded in the Northwest," with other pilot projects already underway elsewhere in the country that haven't yet been announced.

Electric Avenue - Portland, OR

Electric Avenue - Portland, OR

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He called the soon-to-open Showcase "a cross between a car dealership and science museum," created with the perspective that this project and other work by Forth should sound "less like a government agency than a more consumer-focused" organization

Asked to sum up the new mission in a sentence, Allen said: "Forth is transforming the way we get around, through innovation, advocacy, (consumer) engagement, and demonstrations of products and services."

And there you have it: the little can-do advocacy group born in Portland hasn't exactly left home, but it's certainly expanded its horizons.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, Green Car Reports editor John Voelcker is one of several members of the council of advisers for Forth, the former Drive Oregon.

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