The U.S. Department of Energy announced Monday that it would award almost $1 million to Drive Oregon over three years, to fund a regional marketing campaign that will promote the benefits of electric cars to regional consumers.

The advocacy group plans to set up a permanent storefront in downtown Portland that will showcase a variety of electric vehicles and charging equipment.

It will be located across the street from Electric Avenue, the city's array of charging stations for plug-in cars.

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The staff inside will be brand-neutral, Drive Oregon notes, offering ride-and-drives in the widest possible variety of plug-in hybrid and battery-electric cars and utility vehicles.

Longer-term electric-car rentals will also be available, and the group expects to host an "active schedule of public events" around electric cars and their real-world use.

As well as the storefront, Drive Oregon will embark on a series of "pop-up" electric vehicle showcases and drive events in not only Oregon, but Washington as well.

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

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

The group will work together with electric utilities and a variety of other local and regional partners.

Finally, some of the funds will go toward a marketing campaign to promote the benefits of electric cars, including visits to the center.

Outreach efforts to local and regional employers, a variety of fleet owners and managers, and various other approaches will be tested as well.

ALSO SEE: Portland's Electric Avenue Relocates, Adds DC Fast Chargers (Jul 2015)

"This project will allow us to use the region as a ‘living laboratory’ to test how we move from early adopters to an early majority of drivers," said Drive Oregon's executive director, Jeff Allen.

"We’re excited to work with our dozens of project partners to create national models for success.”

Senator Jeff Merkley [D-OR] weighed in with support too, saying, "The Showcase project will answer [consumers'] questions in new ways, and in doing so, set the stage for increased adoption of electric vehicles in the Pacific Northwest.”

Rendering of future Drive Oregon storefront in downtown Portland for education about electric cars

Rendering of future Drive Oregon storefront in downtown Portland for education about electric cars

Five and a half years after the first modern, volume-priced electric cars went on sale in December 2010, it's become clear to automakers and advocates alike that consumer confusion and uncertainty has proven to be a greater hurdle for electric cars than expected.

An advantage to the Portland storefront will be that its mission is not to sell cars directly, but to educate consumers, rather as Tesla Motors says its stores in malls and other locations do.

Buyers who are unfamiliar with plug-in vehicles usually require multiple visits to reinforce what they've learned before they'll even consider electric cars as a class of vehicle that is possible for them, according to Tesla.

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

That's why events like the various local National Drive Electric Week gatherings, held annually by thousands of volunteers and advocates, prove so effective: consumers can talk face to face with actual electric-car owners and drivers.

That's not necessarily something that franchised auto dealers, which make money by selling as many cars as efficiently as possible, are interested in doing—or even capable of.

So nonpartisan venues like Drive Oregon's storefront may play the educational role that's largely been missing outside mostly smaller-scale volunteer efforts.

Electric Avenue rededication, Portland, July 2015

Electric Avenue rededication, Portland, July 2015

The DoE award is also a big deal for the little group itself, since it will not only double Drive Oregon's staff but also expand its work into the neighboring state of Washington as well.

It's a shot, said executive director Allen, at getting the state's plug-in car sales rate from its current 1.5 percent to as much as 15 percent.

In other words, if you're visiting Portland, plan to swing by—either to learn more or to see if perhaps you can add some real-world experience for visitors thinking about electric cars for the first time.

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


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