2013 Detroit Show Pushes Plug to the Margins

By · January 15, 2013

Cadillac ELR

Cadillac ELR (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

You may have heard that the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit would be somewhat light on electric cars and plug-in hybrids. That’s true enough. On the first big day in Detroit I didn’t see one rolled out. But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t some news on the sidelines.

“Does the public really want [electric vehicles]? Well, they’re going to get them whether they want them or not.”

Bob Lutz

Nissan’s news from the podium was all about the new Versa Note and the Resonance crossover concept, which can be powered by a one-motor, two-clutch hybrid system. But over in the corner, it had the new stripped-down version of the LEAF, with a price that starts at $28,800 before the federal rebate, which means you could get into one for less than $19,000 in California.

And the independents were there in force, even if—as in the case of Tesla Motors—they didn’t have that much new to say. One of the more encouraging plug-in developments here in Detroit was from Via Motors, whose highly opinionated front man (from a position as an advisor) is industry veteran and legend Bob Lutz.

Cadillac, of course, unveiled the long-anticipated ELR version of the Volt on Tuesday morning. The green side of the car was downplayed over its luxury and performance aspects—“295 foot pounds of torque,” said Cadillac design guru Mark Adams, “more than the BMW M3!” The Volt wasn’t even mentioned.

Nissan LEAF S

Nissan LEAF S, the base-level lowest priced model, was displayed on the showroom floor, but was not mentioned in Nissan's main presentation at the 2013 Detroit show. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

Like The Old Days: EVs as Obscure Quasi-Conversions for Fleets

Via showed off a drag-race-ready electric truck, effectively combining two of its 402-horsepower, very compact electric motors (supplied by Remy). That’s the kind of EV favored by Lutz, who in another corner of the show was showcasing his so-crazy-it’s-logical VL Destino, a Fisker Karma stripped of its plug-in hybrid drivetrain—and with a Corvette-sourced LT-1 or LS-9 engine in its place. How about 636 horsepower? If Fisker fails, this project could survive it.

But Via had news of its own, specifically actual lucrative contracts with Verizon and PG&E. These announcements help to make startups like Via—which has postponed some launch dates—seem more real. Verizon’s Ken Jack said that it worked with Via “to integrate the company’s plug-in hybrid trucks and vans as bread-and-butter vehicles for our industry.”

PG&E’s Dave Meisel told me the company loved the idea that Via’s vehicles could provide emergency power in crisis situations, as in the recent Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on the East Coast. And it also wants to explore the vehicle to grid aspects. It doesn’t hurt, he said, that despite the relatively high $80,000 purchase price the payback period is still seven or eight years.

Via X-Truck

The Via high-power X-Truck, capable of 800 horsepower. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

“Does the public really want [electric vehicles]?” Bob Lutz asked. “Well, they’re going to get them whether they want them or not.” He described the Via trucks, based on GM workhorses, as “fully engineered production vehicles, not aftermarket conversions.”

Via has still not been able to get engineless “gliders” from GM, but CEO Alan Perriton told me he’s working on that. GM is said to be supportive of the company, but it hasn’t done much to demonstrate that it feels the love.


· · 5 years ago

@Jim M

I thought Lutz said he was also going to introduce an "Escalade Class" Luxury SUV from Via motors? What happened?

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.