Pioneering the Electric Highway, One Man’s Story

By Roy L Hales

It was almost inevitable that Chad Schwitters would buy an EV. He had used biodiesel, rode the bus, carpooled, moved close enough to work that he could walk, etc – all for environmental reasons. He didn’t know anybody who owned EV, and thought they would probably “suck,” but was willing to make the sacrifice. He was wrong.

“It turns out there is no sacrifice, EVs are better cars,” Schwitters said. “Even if somebody invented carbon-free domestic gasoline and gave it away for free, I would still drive electric simply because the experience is so much better.”

He and his wife save about $200/month using electricity instead of gas.

Schwitters loves the immediate throttle response in an EV: “Gas cars first slow down to downshift, then slowly build up revs, spool the turbo, bind up all the slack in the drivetrain, etc. I really can’t stand the mushy feel of the accelerator on gas cars anymore. Passing or finding an open spot in traffic is SO much easier in an EV.”

“Gas cars constantly vibrate and make noise…you can feel it through your hands on the wheel and your feet on the floorboards. It’s tiring.”

“Who misses gas stations? Emissions checks? Oil changes? This is way better! Of course everybody fears the “waiting around for hours for the car to charge,” but that’s not how it’s used! It’s more like a cell phone; charge at night and use it during the day.”

The Schitters Fleet just after buying the Model S and before selling the RAV4-EV. (L to R) Tesla Roadster, Prius, RAV4, Tesla Model S - photo Courtesy Chad
The Schwitters Fleet just after buying the Model S and before selling the RAV4-EV. (L to R) the Tesla Roadster, Prius Hybrid, RAV4-EV &  Tesla Model S – photo Courtesy Chad Schwitters

His wife drove their RAV4-EV for four years, before they sold it, and NEVER waited for a charge.

Schwitters admits that, on road trips, “Supercharging still takes longer than getting gas, so anybody trying to set speed records should still take a gas car, but it works perfect for us. The stops are just right to hit the restroom and get a fresh cup of tea from Starbucks, or have a quick meal. The car is often ready to go before we are. Furthermore, charging stations are free and solar-offset.”

He started out by converting their Prius to a Plug-in Hybrid, in November 2008, and found he was suddenly traveling 80 miles on a gallon of gas. The thrill lasted for three days, then Schwitters started getting frustrated with the gas engine kicking in. Four months later, he bought a battery electric vehicle (BEV) through Ebay. It was a 2003 RAV4-EV and had to be shipped up from Utah.

Schwitters’ wife was initially okay with the deal, so long as he left her Prius alone, but changed her mind soon after the RAV4 arrived. She fell in love with it. The EV became their preferred vehicle. So Schwitters ordered a Tesla Roadster in July.

He made his first big EV road trip – from their home in Redmond, WA, to San Diego – in April 2010. As there weren’t any charging stations north of San Francisco, Schwitters was forced to rely on the electrical outlets they found in campgrounds.

“At the time I didn’t know anybody that had taken a real EV Road trip and I wanted to see what it was like,” said Chad Schwitters. “I had recently retired, so I had some time, and wanted to see friends in San Diego. I also had friends in Portland, Chico, San Francisco, San Jose and LA that I visited along the way. It took me four days to drive down; then I spent two days in San Diego, and four days to drive back up. Of course, I was visiting people along the way, so I wasn’t trying to set any speed records.”

Schwitters has driven to California eight times. He was the Vice President of Plug in America during 2011, when he and a few other owners created their own “green highway.” A network Tesla Roadster chargers sprung up between Canada and Mexico.

That was a year before Tony Williams made his well known drive from Tijuana, Mexico, to Vancouver in 2012. Williams made eight overnight stops along the way.

Schwitters says that, thanks to Tesla’s West CoastSupercharger Corridor, he can now drive the same route in two days.

He bought a Tesla Model S in September 2012, then sold the RAV4-EV.

Washington state’s Electric Highway opened up last year. There are now charging stations, strategically placed at intervals of 40 to 60 miles, along the I-5. They are strung out eastwards along the US 2 as far as Wenatchee and on the I-90 to Cle Elum. (Ellensburg’s Supercharger opened last week.)

“The Electric Highway is a fantastic idea,” Schwitters said. “It really makes travel easier for us owners; even better, if makes potential owners feel a lot more confident about buying a plug-in vehicle.”

Though funding has been slow in California and BC, Schwitters says Oregon has been amazing and “Washington has expansion plans that hopefully will be funded in 2014.”

National Plug In Day, at Seattle Center in 2012 - Photo Courtesy of Chad Scwhitters
Segment of  National Plug In Day, at Seattle Center in 2012 – Photo Courtesy of Chad Schwitters

“We’ve been just about everywhere in Washington,” he added. “The coast, Mt Rainier, the San Juan Islands, and we’ve taken highways 20, 2 and 90 to the Eastern part of the state – sometimes for EV events, but other times just as a getaway. There is a group called “Plug In North Central Washington” that is installing 70A EVSEs east of the mountains, so we’ve been taking advantage of those to get around. They are trying to put the EVSEs at places like hotels and campgrounds. I think that’s a great strategy, and we plan to go over there more often because of it.”

He and his wife have also driven north into British Columbia, before there were chargers, and stayed  at Harrison Hot Springs for a couple of days. Now they are planning to visit  Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

They’ve driven south to the San Francisco Bay area on a number of occasions. Some started as Plug-In America board meetings, then became fun trips along the coast.

The Schwitters sought out other destinations.

“Yosemite is our favorite park; it’s just beautiful and there’s a ton of varied things to do,” he said. “Last year we visited Death Valley; it’s no Yosemite, but still very cool and we love hiking the canyons there. We are going back this year”

The Model S in Death Valley - Courtesy Chad Schwitters
The Model S in Death Valley – Photo Courtesy Chad Schwitters

Schwitters did not meet up with either of the higher profile treks along the Electric Highway. Though Tony Williams’ BC2BC convoy sounded like fun, Schwitters had already driven the route and preferred to go when the timing is right for him to visit friends.

“At our local National Plug In Day event (in Bellevue, WA, September 2013) we gave an award to the EV driver who had made the longest trip,” Schwitters said. “There were two BC2BC participants. We unanimously decided that a Nissan Leaf owner who made the trip with his 5-year-old daughter had made a longer trip than the couple in a Tesla Model S, so he got the award.”

He also missed meeting up with the two Tesla Model S’s that drove up from San Diego last November.

Schwitters’ old PHEV Prius is still parked at his house, but now it belongs to his adult son.

“Environmental reasons come in last place on surveys about why people buy EVs,” Schwitters said. “It’s mostly for the better ownership experience, saving money over comparable gas cars, and concern about the US economy and energy security.”

Chad Schwitters is concerned about the environment. There are too many trees for solar panels and too many hills for wind energy at his home in Redmond. So he and his wife buy green energy from their utility and have purchased shares in a community solar project. They have also made an offer on a house with a 10 kW solar system.

(Image at top of page: The Tesla Roadster in Yosemite – Photo Courtesy Chad Schwitters)

4 thoughts on “Pioneering the Electric Highway, One Man’s Story”

  1. Good to read about Chad! We enjoyed his presentation and tour of his Model S in 2012 in Portland.

    Check the spelling on your caption under the “fleet” photo…

    1. Thanks for the correction Andy. I have a tendency to write too fast. BTW I am working on another EV story right now.

  2. I really feel fortunate that people with serious foresight like Chad started supporting EV adoption early on. I have to admit I didn’t think it would be electric vehicles that would take off, I thought it would be hydrogen. Thankfully folks in the early EV community kept carrying the torch. we have successfully made the transition to a 100% EV household relatively painlessly, and much earlier than had we waited around for a hydrogen car and fueling network, thanks to these pioneers!

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