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The Green Highway

Oregon's electric highway Add to ...

The southern portion of Interstate 5 in Oregon begins at the California border and runs north through the mountains, including a 1,300-metre pass, before reaching Eugene and the Willamette River Valley. It's a great road to drive and soon you can enjoy it in your electric car.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has announced it's going to install Level 3 DC fast-charging stations along that portion of the highway.

Level 3 is the key. Level 1 chargers use 110 volts from a regular home outlet and charge a vehicle overnight. Level 2 uses 240 volts, like a dryer or stove, and charge a vehicle in three or four hours. Level 3 uses 480 volts and the heavy juice can take a Nissan Leaf's 45-kilowatt battery from near empty to 80 per cent in half an hour.

However, there are fewer than 50 electric cars registered in all of Oregon, so why do it?

John MacArthur, of Oregon Transportation Research Consortium, says the installation of fast-charging stations will build acceptance for electric vehicles by making it possible for people to take trips beyond the typical range of 100 miles. These stations will be spaced 30 miles apart and located close to the interstate around gas stations, restaurants and restrooms. You need to do something during that half-hour recharge.

By the way, the governors of Oregon, Washington and California signed an agreement last year to create a Green Highway corridor from the British Columbia border to San Diego, Calif. If you're doing British Columbia, however, you will need to have a very long extension cord.

Audi A2 comeback

The car I wanted to buy never came to North America.

It was the Audi A2 1.4 TDI SE with a three-cylinder, 1,422-cc, 75-hp diesel. It was an aluminum four-door hatchback built by Audi from 1999 to 2005. It had amazing fuel consumption of less than 3 litres/100 km and the car weighed less than 1,000 kilograms.

But the thing never made money and, of course, never made the expensive step of passing crash tests and so on to "allow" it to be sold here. It was ahead of its time, but the cost of working with aluminum made it expensive.

Now Audi has announced a small all-electric car based on the A2 will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show next September.

The new A2 will keep the same aluminum chassis but unfortunately it will likely be priced even higher. Audi has decided to go electric with high-end models first so it will load the car with high-tech innovations. It may have been priced it out of my snack bracket but I think it shows the way toward the lighter, stronger, electric cars that people might eventually buy if gas prices continue to go through the roof.

Hybrids lose HOV privileges in California

This is outrageous. Ever since 2005, hybrid vehicles with solo drivers have been allowed to use the carpool lanes in California. Next month, that changes and the hybrids are dumped into the already plugged freeway lanes with the rest of us.

People bought hybrids in California, I believe, more for the open-lane access than for the fuel savings. You must admit a hybrid does best in stop-and-go in cities and not on the freeway (if it's moving rather than stopped) but that's another discussion.

Now California had decided that the new program, which will run until 2015, should encourage the purchase of more environmentally friendly vehicles than those old hybrids. The new regime only allows zero-emission vehicles such as hydrogen fuel cell, all-electric and some compressed natural gas vehicles access to the carpool lane. The people who are about to lose carpool lane access are livid.

Many solo drivers in Los Angeles have become accustomed to 100-mile commutes blasting along the multi-passenger HOV lane. These people now have to buy a zero-emission vehicle or be tossed out of the carpool express lane.

I offer no advice except to point out that what the government granteth, the government can taketh away. Make your vehicle choice on what makes sense for you and not on whatever is the government's latest flavour of the day.

Michael Vaughan is co-host with Jeremy Cato of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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