A Valparaiso man drives to work every day without using a drop of gasoline.
Walt Breitinger, who works as a commodities broker in Merrillville, makes his commute in about 35 minutes using a rare, Swiss-made vehicle called a TWIKE. Much of the energy used to power the three-wheeled car comes from Breitinger himself. It’s pedal-powered. About 25 percent of the vehicle’s energy comes from the human operator. Without pedaling, the TWIKE runs out of “gas” quickly. “A bowl of cereal gets me there (to his Merrillville office) and an piece of pizza gets me home,” he said. Breitinger said people stare, shout encouragement, and honk at his sleek, white vehicle. “I get it all the time,” he said. “Usually it’s (a) thumbs-up (gesture). Its top speed is about 50 mph, but Breitinger likes to keep his at about 25 mph to improve efficiency. Breitinger takes U.S. 30, but he usually leaves early in the morning before traffic is heavy.
Its electric motor is smaller than a washing machine’s and power the vehicle about 45 miles on a six-hour charge. It has most of the equipment of a gas-powered vehicle, including high and low beams, window defoggers, interior lights and even cruise control. A computer tells the driver how much farther the vehicle can go without a charge. The whole thing weighs around 500 pounds (sans driver).One of the more futuristic features is a regenerative braking system that puts energy back into the into the batteries while the vehicle slows. “It has this extreme energy efficiency,” Breitinger said. “This efficiency may eventually create a demand for vehicles of its type, but not right now.”Olof Sundin, the president of Electric Vehicles Northwest Inc. in Seattle, has the only U.S. TWIKE dealership, but he has yet to sell one. His business mainly deals in ordinary vehicles converted to electric power and electric-assisted bicycles. Sundin promotes the TWIKE at car shows and other events. He recently took it to the Seattle Auto Show. Some people liked it; others said, “This is ludicrous.”“If you call back in 10 years, we have no illusions about having thousands on the street,” he said.Breitinger hopes the TWIKE will draw attention to energy conservation in the area. “Although I have fun riding it, I’m mainly doing it….to prove that people don’t need to burn fossil fuels,” he said.Breitinger experiments with various energy-saving devices and drove to work for years on a recumbent bicycle. His garage is littered with human-powered devices such as bicycles and push lawn mowers.He is looking for financial or technical support for the project – approaching utility companies and business about sponsorship and even considered selling advertising space on the vehicle.Breitinger has an incentive to keep the electric vehicle going as long as he can. He sold his 1982 car to help pay for it. My goal is to be without any automobile,” he said.