OSU Fleet of Electric Cars, Hybrids Hopes Nissan Looks their Way

Oregon State University:  Oregon State University, which is a leader among Oregon campuses in its use of electric and hybrid vehicles, is poised to take a larger role in emerging electric car technology at a time when Nissan North America has announced a major zero-emission vehicle partnership with the state of Oregon.

As the campus with the largest statewide fleet, Oregon State is already embracing electric car technology, and according to Justin Fleming, manager of the university’s motor pool, OSU has agreed to provide the Oregon University System Chancellor’s Office with a hybrid vehicle from its fleet.

This kind of forward thinking has brought OSU to the attention of Nissan, said Fleming, who was involved in preliminary discussion with Nissan representatives and the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships regarding Nissan’s latest project.

Nissan North America is launching an electric car partnership with the state of Oregon to bring zero-emission electric cars to government agencies by 2010, and expand the availability of electric car charging stations around Oregon. OSU already has two electric charging stations on campus for its smaller electric vehicles, and Fleming said they’d be eager to build stations for larger cars like Nissan is proposing, if they’re asked to participate in the project.

“It would be fantastic to be a part of it,” he said.

Nissan wants to work with state agencies to collect field data on electric car usage, as well as to develop a charging infrastructure that would allow their newly designed electric vehicles to make long range trips. Their goal is to mass-market the vehicles in the state by 2012.

Currently, a larger electric car might be able to make it to Portland from Corvallis, but without a charging station there, wouldn’t be able to get back, Fleming said.

He is waiting to hear from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships to see where OSU might fit in Nissan’s project. The university would have to commit to purchasing or leasing electric vehicles, and to installing kiosks where the vehicles could be charged.

Fleming believes the vehicles would provide a great opportunity for the university to demonstrate its commitment to innovative technology and hopes leaders in alternative fuel research, including those in OSU’s College of Engineering, would be role models for the technology.

“(Nissan) is talking about being one of the first manufacturers to bring an affordable electric vehicle to market,” Fleming said. “If we can participate in the early stages of infrastructure development and public education, it will send a strong message to the rest of the state.”

OSU is the only public university in Oregon with its own centralized motor pool. Other universities use the state motor pool instead or have distributed ownership of vehicles. But because the university is in control of its own fleet, Fleming has been able to demonstrate OSU’s commitment to sustainability and new technology by introducing small electric cars to the fleet (with three more being purchased) as well as 15 hybrid vehicles.

The low-speed electric vehicles now in use are slightly larger than golf carts, maintain a speed of around 25 miles per hour and can be operated in speed zones up to 35 m.p.h. They are primarily for use on campus by organizations such as campus recycling, printing and mailing services and environmental health and safety.

The small cars can be plugged into a normal electrical outlet, or can be charged at one of two plug-in stations around campus.

The hybrids can be used for long-range trips, and are the most requested vehicles in the fleet. In the last two years hybrids have been the number one rental choice by University Motor Pool customers. There was an average of 2,750 rental days and 400,000 miles of operation per year for the hybrids, which means an average of 10 hybrids are in use every working day of the year.

“It’s the popular choice for most renters,” Fleming said. In addition to short-term check out, there are five hybrids on assignment to University Housing & Dining Services as campus service vehicles.

The motor pool is going to convert two of its hybrids to plug-in hybrids with the ability to plug-in and recharge additional batteries, increasing the efficiency of the vehicles and allowing them to get 80 to 90 miles per gallon in an urban setting. The conversion is part of a Governor’s Office project requiring 10 state agency vehicles to be converted to plug-ins.

The motor pool model saves the university money and creates opportunities to pursue innovative ideas, Fleming said. When employees check out a car from the motor pool rather than using their own to drive long distances, there’s a large difference in costs to the university. An average trip to Portland, the number one destination for OSU travelers, could save the university $42 if the employee uses a motor pool sedan, whereas reimbursement for a personal vehicle represents higher direct and indirect costs.

In an era of budget cuts, Fleming said, increasing the usage of the motor pool could save the university close to $500,000 a year.

“Maybe the most innovative thing we can do is take a simple idea like pooling resources and do it really well.”

For a YouTube video of Fleming discussing electric cars, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=641vdPSdZS4&feature=channel_page

— About Oregon State University: OSU is one of only two U.S. universities designated a land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institution. OSU is also Oregon’s only university designated in the Carnegie Foundation’s top tier for research institutions, garnering more than 60 percent of the total federal and private research funding in the Oregon University System. Its more than 20,300 students come from all 50 states and more than 80 countries. OSU programs touch every county within Oregon, and its faculty teach and conduct research on issues of national and global importance.

Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.