Plugged In

Green Vehicles Lead The Way

Schmidt's Auto, Inc. is tops in eco-efficiency with its "Sparky" battery-powered vehicle and Peterbilt zero-emission semi.


For Schmidt's Auto, Inc., going "green" means putting its best wheel forward. The towing, salvage and parts company, headquartered in Madison, Wis. and open since 1937, utilizes vehicles that are battery-powered and zero-emission.

Third-generation owners Mike Schmidt and John Schmidt credit the business' location as the inspiration behind its green initiatives. Nestled in downtown Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin and three large hospitals, the city has miles of bike paths and a liberal attitude.

"We do a lot of work uptown," acknowledged Mike. "It is so congested and tight up there, you sit idling all the time. We were looking for some way to do service work without having to bring a big truck."

Schmidt's Auto ( can receive up to 100 service calls a day from stranded motorists. Battery-powered "Sparky" helps answer the calls.

The Schmidts bought Sparky, a full-service, battery-powered truck, for $20,000 in 2008 from Columbia ParCar Corp., in Reedsburg, Wis. ( Its enclosed box carries jacks, power tools and compressed air. It reaches a maximum speed of 35 mph, is street legal, has zero-emissions and costs nothing to run besides insurance. The best part is Sparky can travel along bike paths, into parking ramps and even onto golf course greens.

"We can go anywhere with it," said Mike. "It's like a truck. You just can't tow a car with it."

"Sparky" had such a following with the university's students, John's wife Jody Schmidt ordered special decals and officially named it. Sparky has worked out so well, the Schmidt's plan on owning at least three more.

In 2010, the brothers added a zero-emission Peterbilt semi to the lineup. Peterbilt Motors Company ( contacted the business based on a recommendation from the local dealership and offered Schmidt's Auto one of its newest trucks. At the time, the zero-emission semi was only one of six in the nation. Mike said the truck cost $25,000 more than a regular semi.

"The incentive is we put a lot of miles on these trucks," he said. "At 50,000 miles the company puts a new motor in and at 100,000 miles, it does it again."

The semi uses regular diesel fuel. It uses a flatbed to haul, pick up and tow vehicles.

"Within five to seven years, all of our trucks will be like that," Mike declared.

The brothers have even branched out and created a separate company, Green Cab, which uses a Toyota Prius fleet. The cab company, in business for six months, takes 700 calls a day and is shattering initial goals.

The Schmidt family has a history of being green with plans to continue in the future.

"It's 2011 and the whole world is focused on recycling. You have to be up with the times," declared Mike. "In 1957, the sign on the front of the building said, 'Schmidt's Auto, Inc.' and right underneath it, 'Where Recycling Starts.' We were using the term recycle before people were even thinking about recycling."

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