City of Portland Fleet Gets Smarter

This came over the transom yesterday afternoon:


You’re invited to take a ride and learn more about the new Smart cars on Wednesday the 30th.
Contact: Mary Volm
May 29.2007

BES and the Motor Pool purchased the Smart Vehicles

WHAT: The City of Portland CityFleetand the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) will roll out the new Smart cars and the new Gem electric vehicle.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 30; 11:00 AM

WHERE: In front of City Hall, 4th Ave side

WHO: John Hunt, CityFleet Manager, Office of Management and Finance
Dean Marriott, Director, BES
Scott Turpen, Facilities Manager BES

Come See, take a ride and learn more about the new Smart cars and Gem electric vehicle and learn how the City is utilizing this new technology.


18 responses to “City of Portland Fleet Gets Smarter”

  1. Does this mean there will be any modifications to city code to allow two “Smart” cars to share one parking space, as they are designed to do?

    If anyone goes to the press event, that’s the question I’d like to have answered.

    – Bob R.

  2. I’d like to see all-electric cars not have to pay for on-street parking. Or at least, for the smaller vehicles, have free designated spaces in places where normal-sized spaces wouldn’t fit.

  3. The 3, Mercedes Smart cars supposedly get 55mpg. I was a little disappointed to learn they were neither electric hybrids or battery powered. The only advantage I see is a minimal ease of parking. I would rather the city invest in hybrids. There is 1, battery electric, 4-seater golf cart type (similar to the ones seen in the Pearl). Nothing new there. And the Smart cars are not all that great. Fun to drive, I’m sure, but, technologically a step backward. We’ve already gone down the high mpg, small car road and got nowhere. If they’re not electric, they’re obsolete. City Hall PR dog and pony show.

  4. I wouldn’t feel safe driving one of those, and I don’t think I would be too comfortable cramming all 6 foot 3 inches of my body in one either.

    I think I will stick to the full size sedans, pickups, or SUV’s.

  5. Hey Wells…are you sure the Smart’s aren’t technologically in pace with the times? Have you even sat in one? I have, (I’m 6′ tall) and it felt just great, like I was in a regular sized car, except when I turned my head to the rear.

    I agree with you about the absence of electric or hybrid power. Seems as if the design logistics of incorporating batteries into the car would work out, this little bug would be a shoe-in for higher, greener mileadge.

    Portland has it’s own passionate electric car fans that probably have some pretty good ideas about whether the car is right for this.

    The Smart seems dinky when you think of some of the leviathans on the road today. And then there’s 16 wheeler semi’s to think about. Really though, small is relative. As a city car, it should be just fine, and as a bonus, with fatter tires, maybe you could take it right out on the golf course.

  6. Why doesn’t the City of Portland retire much of its fleet, and require its employees on city business to take mass transit?

    Seems like a simple – and cost-effective – solution. (Obiviously exceptions would be granted towards maintenance, water and parks employees who need their equipment, and police and fire bureaus for obivious reasons.) But for those city employees just needing to travel between work sites, or who don’t need to carry heavy equipment, there’s no reason why they can’t ride a bus/MAX.

    With Portland’s growing wi-fi network, why, they could sit back and relax on Portland’s excellent transit system and work on the road instead of sitting in traffic! Plus they’ve make a positive difference towards congestion, air quality, and save taxpayers money too.

  7. ws,

    Yes, the Smart cars are neither hybrids nor electric. They’re just a really small vehicle with a regular internal combustion engine. The only reason it gets 55 mpg (max) is because it is so small to begin with.

    I have tried them on for size, and no, they are not just like sitting in a regular car. My knees hit the steering wheel and my hair brushes up against the roof. Of course, I’m 6’5″, so I’m probably taller than most….

  8. From the previous posts, it is presumable these cars carry a foreign manufacture’s brand on them. Additionally, just the other day I noticed a car in a shopping center parking lot with the City of Portland script on the doors made by Volkswagen. In that both the mayor and Commissioner Adams have spoken out in favor of the public supporting Oregon products and purchasing from local companies, there is both irony and hypocrisy in their remarks when the City of Portland purchases foreign cars instead of supporting American workers and buying American vehicles and products. .

  9. Terry –

    The Smart is a Daimler-Chrysler product, but not made in the USA. (And of course, the ownership and name of Daimler-Chrysler are changing.)

    What US-built production car is less than 9′ long and gets better than 40mpg fuel economy?

    If there is one, I’ll agree that the city should consider it’s local qualities as a priority.

    – Bob R.

  10. I can totally agree with Aaron says about the fit of the Smart if you’re over 6′ tall. For me, it was just right, but if I was even an inch taller, it would have been a little close. Aside from that, the car interior seems very well designed, and like a regular car to me. I’d love to try one out for few days.

    On the safety issue, the manufacturer boasts about the car’s safety using a phrase something like, ‘built around a roll frame’, still, if a big SUV hit you, I suppose it would be a bit like a paddle hitting a ping-pong ball. I’d still like to try one. Seems like the future for a lot of drivers will be towards smaller cars.

  11. Bob and Terry,

    Isn’t Daimler-Chryler now the parent company of Freightliner? If so, then D-C actually does have a local connection and I see no reason for the City of Portland not to support them. But I would prefer that we concentrate more on using hybrids or other alternative fuel vehicles rather than just smaller internal combustion engines.

  12. Tonight I wandered down by the World Trade Center, and one of the electric car conversion buffs was there charging up his rig. I mentioned to him about talk of the Smart on this thread and the dissatisfaction expressed over it not being a hybrid or electric. He didn’t have anything specific, but mentioned he’d heard of somebody who has converted a Smart to electric.

    These electric powered vehicle guys meet up every 2nd thursday of the month between 7-9pm at the WTC plaza.

  13. “What US-built production car is less than 9′ long and gets better than 40mpg fuel economy?”

    Purchasing foreign made cars, or even foreign made bicycles for that matter, is no different than purchasing foreign oil. No matter how good or poor the fuel mileage is on a foreign made car is (size is not the issue), adding foreign made cars to the city fleet is still a dependence on a foreign product. If the city continues this trend of buying foreign instead of promoting Oregon products and those made in the U S of A, maybe our elected officials should also be recommending to the public making purchases at WalMart where the inventory is also foreign made, and far less expensive than the products made in Oregon and America being sold in local stores by neighborhood merchants.

  14. “Purchasing foreign made cars, or even foreign made bicycles for that matter, is no different than purchasing foreign oil.”


    What?! A limited natural resource is by definition different than something that can be manufactured. It is different than purchasing foreign oil.

    Regardless, in this day and age of international manufacturing the name plate on a car (or even where it is manufactured) is not indicative of the amount of domestic vs. international content.

    All of which is to say if you feel so strongly about this I am perplexed why you are not a louder proponent for cycling. There are lots of great made in the USA bikes (and even made in Portland) and the amount of dependence on oil is zero.

  15. There are lots of great made in the USA bikes (and even made in Portland) and the amount of dependence on oil is zero.

    1. That bicycle factory probably uses electricity for the manufacturing process. (Heck, just welding the frame together, or baking it if it’s a carbon-fiber frame, is going to use a lot of electricity.)

    Based on PGE’s supply mix (presuming the factory is in PGE’s service territory, Pacific Power is slightly different) (link – ), almost 14% of PGE’s generation is natural gas (petroleum) based. (For those who are keeping score, 42% is coal.)

    Even if, under PGE’s program, you purchase the “clean wind” program, wind power only makes up less than 21% of the power generation mix, decreasing but not eliminating coal and natural gas use.

    2. It’s highly unlikely that raw materials are brought in using zero oil consumption. Oregon Steel Mills and Cascade Steel, the two area steel mills, don’t provide the right kind of steel. Nor are there any remaining aluminium smelters in the area to provide a local source. Raw materials must be brought in from outside the region – presumably by truck, rail or aircraft.

    3. Once the finished bicycle is made, it has to be shipped. Presumably, every bike is NOT sold locally (and at the factory), so it has to be transported somewhere. Again, I don’t think they ride every newly manufactured bike, nor do they use a bicycle transport.

    4. I would likely assume that not every employee of the plant bikes/walks to work each and every single day.

    5. Doesn’t the factory get mail, FedEx, UPS or DHL packages? Those companies don’t use oil-free vehicles.

    And my two cents regarding “buy local”, why doesn’t the Portland Office of Transportation have a “buy local” component for their maintenance vehicles? I see a LOT of Volvos, Kenworths and Peterbilts when they could be buying Freightliners. (Although buying more Kenworths and Peterbilts might be Portland’s way of saying that heavy industry doesn’t belong in Portland, it belongs in Tacoma, and that’s why the Seattle-Tacoma area surpassed Portland in population in the 1920s and never looked back. Must also be why Seattle/Tacoma has more Fortune 1000 companies than Portland, why SeaTac Airport has more flights, and why Seattle/Tacoma’s economy is much better.)

    And speaking of Freightliner, Freightliner has a subsidiary company Orion Bus. I wonder why TriMet hasn’t purchased a single Orion Bus – since we seem to be so elated about bringing Streetcar manufacturing to Portland (given the immensely huge market for maybe 10 Streetcars a year), why hasn’t the civic leaders considered petitioning Orion Bus (a subsidiary of Freightliner) to building a new manufacturing plant here in Portland to create hundreds of jobs? Or Smart Car, another subsidiary of Daimler? Or another company that is building so-called environmentally friendly cars? There’s plenty of land in Rivergate for such a factory, and we could use the jobs and the economic boost.

    Oh, wait, I forgot. They aren’t “creative”, “hip”, “young”, and it’s not in the Pearl or SoWa. And it doesn’t involve computers, advertising, art, or big multi-national athletic apparel companies whose presence in the area is token, with manufacturing actually done in faraway sweat shops.

  16. Terry questioned the city buying these cars for the fleet rather than American cars.

    I then asked: What US-built production car is less than 9′ long and gets better than 40mpg fuel economy?

    Terry replied: Purchasing foreign made cars, or even foreign made bicycles for that matter, is no different than purchasing foreign oil. No matter how good or poor the fuel mileage is on a foreign made car is (size is not the issue), adding foreign made cars to the city fleet is still a dependence on a foreign product.

    Terry, you are sidestepping the point: American car companies, for whatever reasons, do not provide vehicles in this emerging market segment. When they do, I’ll be the first to say that the locality of the manufacture should be a big factor. (Make up some kind of point system to evaluate fleet purchases, if you want.)

    The Prius, for example, is no longer a fringe vehicle. It is now the #9 car by unit sales in the whole USA. Ford has very similar technology to the Prius yet does not offer it in a sedan. GM has yet to offer a full-hybrid sedan. (They do have a Belt-Alternator-Starter mild hybrid system now.)

    Oh, by the way Terry, the GEM Car that the city purchased, sold by a division of Daimler-Chrysler, is in fact manufactured in Fargo, North Dakota.

    Prior to my own purchase of a hybrid, I purchased exclusively American cars (although one was arguably primarily made in Mexico). I wanted to purchase a GM EV1, but of course not only do they refuse to make them anymore, they destroyed most of the ones originally built. Ford developed the Th!nk, a very good electric car, but now the technology and the factory are in Norway and outside of US control. (However, Telsa motors, a US company based in California, Detroit, and New Mexico, will be supplying the battery modules.)

    People, corporate fleets, and governments who buy small city cars, electric cars, hybrids, and alternate-fuel vehicles are driving a new market. American car manufacturers will eventually have to take notice and respond with models of their own. I, and others, eagerly await that day, cash in hand.

    – Bob R.

  17. I don’t really have a problem with drawing from the international marketplace to produce an american product, or even buying foreign products to a certain extent. The main offense that lies with a corporate outfit like WM, is how it is notoriously known for squeezing suppliers to a smaller and smaller margin until it drives owners of the supplying coutries to abuse their employees or lose the contract.

    From what I’ve read about the Smart, it’s been regarded as a really high risk venture. That’s why …Chrysler is it?…hasn’t released it even though it’s been around for a few years. The auto industry is a very big, inflexible leviathan. At least, american auto manufacturers are. The story of the EV-1 speaks volumes about the auto industry’s inability to ever really effectively provide efficient transportation products to the public.

    I really like those GEM EV’s too. Perfect for summer driving in town.

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