Oregon in running for Norwegian car plant
By Richard Read, The Oregonian
Think North America, whose parent company makes emission-free vehicles, confirmed today that it’s considering Oregon and seven other states for a factory that would ultimately make 60,000 compact cars a year.
Think managers want to convert an existing building into a car plant and to launch an engineering center, perhaps alongside. As Oregon, Michigan, California and other states scramble to offer incentives, Think plans to decide on a location within a couple of months, investing an as-yet-undisclosed amount.
“There’s a number of things that appeal to Think about Oregon,” said Brendan Prebo, a Think North America spokesman, who added that state officials are pursuing both the factory project and the engineering center. “They’ve also shown their interest in terms of supporting electric vehicle sales.”
Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a proponent of all-electric vehicles, has said such cars could be made in Oregon, in addition to being test-marketed here as the state installs charging stations. But Think’s interest in the state is the first specific indication that Oregon could become a mini Detroit for green vehicles.
On Monday in Portland, Kulongoski plans to test drive an electric-vehicle prototype built by Nissan, which has picked Oregon as one of the first sites to launch its green cars next year. Portland General Electric Co. is building a network of charging stations in the Portland and Salem areas.
On Tuesday in Portland, the governor and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden plan to join Think Chief Executive Richard Canny to test-drive a pre-production “Think city” car similar to tiny four-seat vehicles that Think Global is producing in Europe. “The governor believes strongly that Oregon is well positioned to be a leader in both manufacturing and market introduction,” said Anna Richter Taylor, a Kulongoski spokeswoman.
The Legislature is considering a bill the governor introduced to expand state tax incentives to cover green-auto manufacturing. Another bill would phase out tax credits for buyers of hybrid vehicles while introducing credits for all-electric cars.
Makers of electric cars have been examining the former Freightliner plant on Portland’s Swan Island owned by Daimler Trucks North America, a manager said Friday. Jim Siedow, Daimler Trucks property and buildings manager at the site, said numerous people had inspected the 480,000-square-foot plant, which is scheduled to close in June 2010.
“The discussion has been pertaining to an electric car,” Siedow said. Asked whether Think had examined the factory, which still makes Western Star trucks, Siedow said he had signed a confidentiality agreement and could not discuss anything involving certain areas of the plant. Daimler, he said, “will try to do anything and everything to help the city and the state secure a manufacturing operation.”
A switch from trucks to green cars would write a happy new chapter for the Swan Island plant, where about 700 workers remained after recent layoffs. Prebo, the Think spokesman, said the company needs 120,000 square feet for a first-phase operation in which 290 workers will make 16,000 cars a year. A second phase will require more space to reach 60,000 vehicles a year, he said. Employment for that and the engineering center will total 900, he said.
“We’re planning to begin producing and selling vehicles in the U.S. in mid-2010,” Prebo said. Think cars to be test-driven at Portland’s World Trade Center Tuesday morning will be highway-ready, with a top speed of 62 mph, Prebo said. The all-electric cars have a driving range of about 112 miles, and require about 10 hours to recharge batteries using 220-volt outlets.
Oregon State University engineering Dean Ron Adams, who chairs the Oregon Energy Planning Council, said the state trains engineers who could help manufacture and design electric vehicles. “We have a pretty healthy manufacturing sector here,” with workers who know how to assemble complex machines, Adams said.