Electric, hybrid, diesel: Want to drive the future?

PORTLAND, Ore. - Gas prices are still pretty high these days and if the idea of driving an electric, hybrid or more fuel efficient vehicle appeals to you and your budget, you might want to head to OMSI this weekend.

That's because on Saturday, they're inviting folks to come on down and check out some of the latest models, hear from experts and even take some electric, hybrid and clean diesel vehicles on a test drive - all for free. You can check out the Smart car, Honda Fit EV, Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt, VW Jetta Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and KIA Optima Hybrid, to name a few.

KATU got a sneak peek on Friday and did a little test driving of our own. Each car maker, of course, had their own pitch but the real value of the experience, we learned, was the chance to get behind the wheel of different vehicles and get all of our questions answered right there on the spot.

For example, are you concerned about the batteries in electric cars being expensive to replace? Dealers have listened and are offering incentives like battery lease programs to help spread out the cost.

Or perhaps you are worried about an electric car running out of juice and leaving you stranded. Did you know that new technologies for how electric vehicles manage and replenish their charge makes the odds of that happening slim?

And here's one that a lot of folks want to know - what's it like to drive one of those little Smart cars? Well for one, they are surprisingly roomy inside, considering how small they look on the outside.

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

And if a Smart car seems a little goofy to drive, the car maker wants you to know that it was, after all, designed to be different.

"When you think Smart, you think fun," said spokesperson Diedra Wylie. "You think quirky. It fits the brand. A Smart isn't going to look like another car."

For something less quirky, there are electric cars like the Honda EV Fit, which we took for a spin as well. Spokesperson Chris Martin told us that many of their dealers have waiting lists for the car. "The demand has been ridiculous," he said.

And for those who aren't ready to make the jump to an electric or hybrid vehicle, but still want to save on mileage, there are clean diesel vehicles, which Volkswagen spokesperson Darryll Harrison Jr. said for them is a high seller in our region.

"For the Pacific Northwest, which includes the major markets of Seattle and Portland, out of all Volkswagen sales about 48 percent of them are diesel, which by far is the highest penetration of diesel of any market," he said.

What exactly is 'clean diesel?' Well, it's not the diesel you might normally think of - there is no smoke, no noise and it's better for the environment. We drove a clean diesel vehicle and couldn't tell the difference between it and a regular gas vehicle.

OMSI's Drive Revolution: The Future of Transportation event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday in the parking lot. In addition to free test drives, experts will be speaking throughout the day. Here's a look at what's on tap:

  • 11:30 a.m. - How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Drones (Roswell Flight Test Crew)
  • 12:30 p.m. - The Evolution of the West Coast Electric Highway
  • 1 p.m. - From Food to Fuel: Developing a Sustainable, Community-Based Fuel Ecosystem
  • 2 p.m. - Soaring - Flying Using No Propulsion Other Than Air Currents
  • 4 p.m. - Charge Your Engine! Making the Most of Electric Vehicles