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Schmidt's Towing using electric vehicle for some service calls


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Topic Originally Created on Tow411 in August of 2008:




Bryan Biehl was eager to get his Pontiac Sunfire started, but he was also curious about Sparky, the quiet, small service truck that had arrived.

The electric vehicle, just put into service by Schmidt's Towing, turned heads as its driver, Mike Esser, made his way from the company's Beld Street shop to narrow Washburn Place just off of East Gorham Street on the Near East Side.

And because the vehicle is only about five feet wide and less than eight feet long, Esser had little trouble finding a place to park, something that's typically a challenge on the Isthmus.

"It's almost more visible than a flatbed truck," said Biehl. "I noticed it right away."

The $20,500 vehicle, which weighs about 1,200 pounds, is basically a souped-up golf cart, equipped with headlights, turn signals, a single windshield wiper and a heater.

It can't pull a car out of a ditch or tow a dead car to the shop, but Schmidt's Towing, which last year had almost 90,000 calls, is using the vehicle to save on gas and do minor service work like tire changes and refills, and jumping dead batteries in Madison's Downtown area.

The back storage area of the vehicle, manufactured by Columbia ParCar Corp. of Reedsburg, holds a jack, replacement batteries for vehicles that can't be jumped, a tool box, a self-contained jumper pack and an air tank. There are also tools to help get into a locked vehicle.

"We looked at the hybrids, but for what this vehicle is doing, why not go all electrical and save on all gas?" said John Schmidt, co-owner of the towing company founded in 1937. "It can be charged at any 110 (-volt) outlet."

Schmidt believes his company may be the first in the country to use an all-electric vehicle for service calls. Tow Times, a magazine for the towing industry, is scheduled to publish a story next month on the vehicle, Schmidt said.

He ordered the vehicle in April after the City Council approved the use of such vehicles on city streets. The rear-wheel drive vehicle may see limited action during heavy snowfalls this winter, Schmidt said.

Because the vehicle can go only about 25 mph, Schmidt said it doesn't make sense, due to travel times, to send it out to other parts of the city. But using the electric vehicle for Downtown service calls instead of using one of the company's 30 tow trucks - that on their best day get about 11 miles to the gallon - will help put a small dent into the company's $300,000 annual fuel bill. Schmidt believes the electric vehicle will pay for itself in about a year.

He also sees a day when more businesses will invest in electric vehicles.

"I think it's going to be a whole new ballgame in five years," Schmidt said. "You're going to start seeing more of this."
Dennis Thurlow
DENTED Development Inc. (formally OnScene Solutions)
866.706.2366 x101


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