Robert L. “Bob” Sewell – Regenerative Electric Car Inventor
It’s difficult to say who developed the first electric car that charges it’s own batteries by coasting down a hill and having the motor become a generator.
One thing is for sure, in the 1950’s, Bob Sewell, of Spokane, Washington, retrofit a 1947 Crosley Station Wagon with an aircraft starter motor that exactly accomplishes these regenerative methods and he did it as an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Idaho.
It made national news and was even featured in a full page story in the November 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics. See it here: November 1957 Popular Mechanics
In a popular article about electric cars back in 1960, which was published in the Saturday Evening Post, Bob Sewell is even mentioned in the same paragraph as the legend Charles Proteus Steinmetz. Apparently, Steinmetz had worked out the regenerative electric car back in 1913.
“As the subject heats up, ideas keep popping out: Why not put electric chargers on parking meters, an extra dime giving a parked car ten miles of recharge while it waits? Why not design the motor to become a generator going downgrade, recharging the battery and helping to brake the car? Charles P. Steinmetz, the electrical wizard, had that worked out in 1913. Robert Sewell, an engineering student at the University of Idaho last year, now with Washington Water Power, has applied this idea to an electrified Crosley station wagon.”
Bob recently passed away so there is a lot we’ll never get to share with each other in regards to some fun and exciting electrical experiments. He definitely had a sparkle in his eye when I told him about some of the work of Eric Dollard, Jim Murray and others we’re involved with. Whenever Eric Dollard stayed at my home, he parks his car in perfect view for Bob to see all the antennas on it – something Bob could appreciate as a Ham Radio operator. Bob Sewell was my neighbor.
I’ll always remember him waving at me every time he drove by my house in his little maroon PT Cruiser, literally driving about 2 miles per hour. Happy travels Bob!