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Electric car chargers popping up in Western Pa.

Stephen Huba
| Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Tesla charging stations were being installed at the Sheetz gas station on Route 30 West in North Huntingdon, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Tesla charging stations were being installed at the Sheetz gas station on Route 30 West in North Huntingdon, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.

Is the electric car charger the gas pump of the future?

Venkat Viswanathan, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks so.

“All the gas stations will probably be obsolete in 30 to 40 years and will turn into charging stations. The move is inevitable,” Viswanathan said.

The futuristic-looking Tesla Superchargers being installed at the North Huntingdon Sheetz will become more commonplace as Americans buy more electric cars, he said.

“Both the Superchargers and the smaller charging stations will be quite ubiquitous going forward,” he said.

The assistant professor put that claim to the test this summer, when he and his wife, Ramya, drove a Tesla Model S from Pittsburgh to Palo Alto, Calif., the company's hometown, in four days — an experience he blogged about at Medium.com.

“The trip was truly futuristic in many ways,” he wrote.

Tesla appears to be gearing up for the release of the Model 3, its first mass-market vehicle, by building up its charging infrastructure in Western Pennsylvania and across the country, he said.

In addition to the eight Superchargers being installed at the Sheetz at Route 30 and Thompson Lane, Tesla has opened Superchargers at Sheetz locations in Breezewood, Falls Creek and Cambridge, Ohio, spokeswoman Kady Cooper said.

The company referred requests for information to its website, which has a map showing open and future charging locations. Sheetz spokesman Nick Ruffner referred questions to Tesla.

News reports of Tesla courting the Altoona-based chain began to appear in June 2016. What's more, the Tesla website says it is actively recruiting corporate partners as it seeks to double its charging network across the country.

“We started 2017 with over 5,000 Superchargers globally and by the end of this year, Tesla will double that number to total more than 10,000 Superchargers and 15,000 Destination Charging connectors around the world,” the company said in an April blog post. “In North America, we'll increase the number of Superchargers by 150 percent, and in California alone, we'll add more than 1,000 Superchargers.”

Other Superchargers in Western Pennsylvania are located at the Somerset Wendy's and the Cranberry Township Residence Inn, according to the company's website.

So-called destination charging is available at hotels in Pittsburgh (4), Indiana (1) and Washington (1), according to the website.

The Model 3, which is driving much of the recent activity, is scheduled for a rollout later this year. California residents and current owners can expect to get their orders filled sooner than others, said CMU alumnus Lee Krevat, 54, of San Diego.

Krevat, who graduated from CMU with a computer science degree in 1984, said he drives a 2014 Model S and has a self-driving Model 3 on order for his wife, Kathy, also a CMU graduate.

The Model 3 lists for $35,000, can travel 215 miles on a single charge and can go from zero to 60 mph in six seconds, according to the company.

Krevat, who bought a Tesla after driving a Nissan LEAF, said driving an electric car in Southern California is not a big deal, given the proliferation of charging stations.

He charges his Model S at home and can drive to and from work — a 20-minute commute — all week without recharging, he said. A drive from San Diego to Los Angeles — 120 miles — can be done on a single charge.

“On my way home from L.A., I have two or three opportunities to charge. I usually go to the last opportunity, which is in a mall about 50 miles from my home,” he said.

There, he'll eat at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants while waiting for his car to charge. “By the time I'm done, the car's charged,” he said.

Writing on Medium.com, CMU's Viswanathan detailed each charging stop he and his wife made, encounters with other Tesla drivers and the vagaries of the autopilot system.

“Supercharging network is vast and adequate even with a 60 kWhr (kilowatt hour) battery pack for cross-country road trips. This adds even more belief that even the normal range Model 3 with 220 miles is sufficient for most people,” he wrote.

Viswanathan said Supercharging is free for Tesla owners.

“It's only going to get better from here, and it's already good,” he said. “It's going to become easier and easier to do these sorts of trips.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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