Via Motors, with Bob Lutz’s Help, Aims to Sell 2,000 Electric Trucks This Year

By · January 13, 2012

Bob Lutz with VIA electric truck

Bob Lutz with a Chevy Silverado converted into a plug-in hybrid by VIA Motors.

Bob Lutz likes to claim he is responsible for GM’s decision to produce the Volt “Extended Range Electric Vehicle”—what most people call a plug-in hybrid. Lutz was at the North American Auto Show in Detroit earlier this week, lending his name to the launch of another line of extended range electric vehicles. But this time, he’s helping a much smaller company, and the target market is fleets.

“I joined VIA Motors to continue my vision of extended range electric vehicles,” Lutz told reporters. With typical Lutz-style hyperbole, he added, “The industry is about to be transformed.”

VIA Motors is certainly benefiting from board member Lutz’s ties to GM. The Orem, Utah-based company is pitching a three-vehicle lineup of GM models—a pickup, a van, and an SUV—which will be converted to EREVs. “Our mission is to electrify the light duty sector,” said VIA COO Alan Perrinton, another GM alumnus. He’s the former president of GM Asia.

For now, however, VIA is concentrating on converting Chevy Silverado pickups to run on electricity. GM will deliver Silverado gliders to VIA. The transmissions will be replaced with a hybrid drivetrain, which has a battery range of 30 to 45 miles. The battery, which uses cells from A123 Systems, fully recharges in four hours using 240V or in 15 hours with 120V.

VIA aims to sell 2,000 EREVs next year, and hopes to reach sales of up to 30,000 annually. Roush Cleantech is currently doing the conversions but when volumes grow, VIA will do the conversions itself in a plant to be located in the Detroit area.

The VTrux, as VIA calls them, aren’t cheap at $79,000 each, the price according to spokesman Dave West. But total cost of ownership is still lower than an internal combustion engine model, he claimed. “If we charge twice as much as a gas car, it is still cheaper to own this,” he told PluginCars.com.
One feature that VIA thinks will make its converted trucks a big hit is the ability to use the truck as a mobile power unit to run everything from hairdryers to powertools. There are 240V and 120V outlets on the truck.

Fleets are the initial target customers. Lutz claimed VIA was getting a lot of orders, though it seems that rather than actual orders, VIA has merely generated interest at companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Coca Cola, and with the US government. Mark Burdge, director of government fleet programs, told PluginCars.com that 15 government agencies were part of a beta test program. Two are in fleets now, and 33 more will move in over the next three months, he said.

Burdge claimed government agencies are excited about the VIA trucks because they are FMVSS certified and because after the vehicle is converted, it receives a new Vehicle Identification Number and is considered a new vehicle. Some retired members of the Volt team are now working for VIA. GM is also providing technical assistance and sharing product technology, said Lutz. However, GM is not an investor in VIA.

VIA aims to eventually sell its pricey pickups to consumers. It would like to sell them through GM dealerships, but hasn’t had any discussions with GM about that, said Perrinton. “This is something we will look to in the future,” he said.

Update - Jan. 24: Roush Cleantech is not the division of Roush performing the conversions. Roush Industries is doing the conversions for VIA. "Roush has a long history of Vehicle Development, Retrofit & Reprocess projects, with many global customers, and plans to support VIA in a successful product launch," said Chris Ableson of Roush Industries.

Comments

· · 2 years ago

It's interesting that Via can get Chevy Silverado gliders but AMP Electric Vehicles were never able to get Chevy Equinox gliders for their EV conversions. I'm sure Lutz had something to do with that.

· · 2 years ago

Once again we can see that a mechanically linked engine version of a plug-in hybrid is a little expensive. I am sure it will work well and have many advantages, but it is a little expensive compared to other plug-in configurations.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

I live in a rural area where there are a lot of people who have trucks and SUVs. Trucks are for people who do stuff. How about a better truck? I'm glad someone is taking this problem on. Getting these trucks in front of people who may have a limiting paradigm that trucks can't be fuel efficient and powerful as well should happen.

· priusmaniac (not verified) · 2 years ago

It is not so expensive if you can spare an extra generator by having an external plug on the vehicle fed by the range extender. You also don’t have to care for the extra maintenance and save your back by avoiding the lifting in and out each time you arrive at the construction site or wherever you need of grid electricity.

· · 2 years ago

@alt-e,

I thought these were serial hybrids.

@Alysha Webb,

I like the separation of the Volt as a EREV instead of a plug-in-hybrid. The Volt is different. The Fusion, Prius, Hyundai are ICE cars with electric assist motor(s). The Volt is an electric car with an ICE assist motor. When power is needed Plugins Hybrid fall back to their ICE for assistance. When the Volt needs power and is in charge sustaining mode it pulls additional power from the battery. The ICE is only able to provide half the wattage the motor is capable of pulling.

· · 2 years ago

@theflew and alt-e

Yes, these are true series hybrids. There is absolutely no connection to the wheels from the engine. There is a great picture of the system in the Electric Trux brochure at www.viamotors.com/wp-content/uploads/VIA-Motors-EREV-Beta-Truck-Brochure...

· Londo Bell (not verified) · 2 years ago

@ theflew,

Yes, a lot of Volt fans and owners like you would like to call yours an EREV, and separated from PHEV.

NOT HAPPENING.

Just because GM invented a term, doesn't mean that it's true. For pete's sake, GM is not even an English Linguistic Company!

What you and others of yours alike are trying to redefine the true meaning of hybrid.

Hybrid means the combination of 2 or above. In vehicle terms, it means the combination of 2 power source. Here's the thing - in no way or no form does "hybrid" mean one is providing power or the other is not. It only defines as in, they are there. It doesn't mean that either one has to be on at the moment, or both have to be on.

A Volt is always a PHEV. Period. It has 2 power plants. Doesn't matter which one is being used at the moment. EREV, a term invented by GM, is now classified by US Gov't that it is a sub-category of PHEV. EREV is a term that means the same as Serial Hybrid. See, there is already an official term used to descibe Volt, using a technology that has been already invented (but not used yet). There really is no need for EREV. It's just a marketing ploy.

· · 2 years ago

@regman - Thank you for the link. Clearly the Via is a series hybrid, but that is not what I was trying to get at. Although I said it in such a sloppy way that I could see how someone could get that out of it.

Let me try again: there are two ways to do a series plug-in hybrid. One way is to size the ICE for peak power (not necessarily exactly the peak, but near it is close enough). The other way is to size the ICE for a little over a high aveage expected power.

Every one of the production series hybrids we have seen have been designed for the vehicle to run off of the engine with the engine going up and down to follow the varying load. This means that the engine and its associated system needs to be big. It also means that the system needs to be complex in order to be load following. It also means that the system will be making some efficiency sacrifices in order to be load following (variable RPM).

The point that I was attempting to make is that a small system that handles the highest reasonably expected average load and is either on or off is a much less expensive system, is lighter, takes up less space, etc.

It is true that if you pour a lot of money into a larger system you can make it more efficient for post battery use. But if the purpose of a system is to handle those odd days when the battery pack just doen't cut it, a small system optimized for one RPM can be pretty efficient. And it can be dirt cheap.

There have been many prototypes that have already proven out this concept. But the first I have heard of a production car to be planned to do this is the BMW i3. They will be using a motorcycle engine.

If we look at this type of vehicle being a bridge vehicle to help make EVs cheaper in the early days when batteries are expensive, it should be a lot cheaper to put this type of system in a car instead of half the battery pack. For anyone who normally would fit within a 50 mile range, but occationally needs to take a 100+ mile trip this would be a good configuration. And it should be cheaper than a 100 mile battery car.

Unlike the existing serial plug-in hybrids which are more expensive.

And the average energy generator car is also closer in design to the full battery car so it really is better as a transitionary vehicle that helps move the technology for EVs along by sharing more parts in common. It is also easier to get one car model that has a pure EV option and a generator backed up option. Which is exactly what BMW is doing with the i3.

· · 2 years ago

@Londo Bell,

I can only give you partial credit for your comments although I agree with you completely (and therefore disagree with theflew) in that the Volt is a hybrid, and not even technically a pure series hybrid.

The problem is, just like the colors of a rainbow, there are no good separation between hybrids and therefore, classifying them is difficult. When alt-e states "there are two ways to do a series plug-in hybrid", this statement is not correct since a series hybrid (or any hybrid) can be sized anywhere in-between two extremes of a design. At what engine sizing does a series hybrid become extended range (i.e. engine sized for average power and not peak)? At what point (battery size?) does a mild hybrid become a full hybrid? Etc. There will always be differences in how someone, or some company, or some government, classifies vehicles.

The term "extended range" hybrid has been around for a long time (way before the Volt was conceived). I just looked back at my notes from the 90s and found references to series hybrid vehicles as being sized for a Full Series Hybrid (large engine/generator, small battery) and Extended Range Series Hybrid (small engine/generator, large battery). BTW, Fuel cell vehicles are also technically Series HEV and can be sized for full or extended range. If anything, the term "plug in" is relatively new (as far as I know). This term is redundant for a pure EV and is somewhat a marketing ploy for a hybrid, especially if the HEV can only travel a few miles. The partial credit that I give you, Londo, is that GM replaced the Series Hybrid with EV and made it an EREV, but the "extended range" terminology has been around for a while. IMO, a vehicle can be both an EREV and a PHEV. One doesn't have to replace the other. Also, if the term EREV does exist, there is no reason that it has to be a Series Hybrid. If Ford or Toyota can achieve as much pure EV range with their parallel/series systems before they have to turn on the engine, why couldn't they claim to be an EREV?

· Londo Bell (not verified) · 2 years ago

@regman,

My argument is actually not about the "extended range" part. I've really no problem with that.

The part that I utterly object is how GM - and now everyone else seems to be doing it, thanks to GM - has tried to replace the hybrid part with "EV" term.

It's not about range. It's not about whether it is powered by EV for whatever range or not (even if it's 100000 mi EV range and 1 mi secondary power plant range). It's all marketing ploy. Nothing more.

Think about it - Extended Range Electric Vehicle. This indicates that it is an electric vehicle from the term. It denotes NO OTHER power source, except that, compare to other electric vehicles, this extended range one can go farther. Now, why? Because of a battery? Because of aerodynamics? The answer is none of the above. The term doesn't indicate why it is extended range. The term does indicate that it IS an electric vehicle. Then comes the good part: it has another power plant. So 2 different power plants. Ah - a hybrid. Then think about this - Extended Range Hybrids. MAKES TOTAL SENSE. A vehicle, with 2 or more different power plants, to provide long distance travel.

EPA has it done right. It's all about categorization.

In very high level, it categorizes vehicle based on the type of fuel use.

Then it subcategorizes that there is hybrid. Then sub-subcategorized to serial or parallel hybrid. Then, if you (or those Volt fans) like, sub-sub-subcategorize the different blend of serial hybrids.

EPA also have a separate sub-categy for EV. Right now there isn't any sub-subcategorization under EV, but one can be based on vehicle type (van, car, etc.), or, to be consistent, based on different type of "technologies" - in this case, battery type. It really can't subcategorize EV into pure EV and not-pure EV, because not-pure EV will automatically falls into the hybrid bucket.

In short, it's based on the type of fuel use, or the technology to power the vehicle.

Trying to create a term, EREV, is redundant at this point then. A category has already existed. No need to reinvent the wheel, just because GM doesn't want to use the phase hybrid to make it sound like Toyota.

Marketing and Engineering don't mix.

· · 2 years ago

@ Londo Bell (not verified),

100% agree with you up to the point you started to talk about sub categorizing. The EPA NEEDS to categorize for, among other things, the label ratings. To this end, an EV is an EV and the label will reflect things like MPGe and range. Any time the vehicle can, at some point, put out emmisions, it becomes at best a hybrid and the label will have a MPG. The only other sub category of hybrids has to be plug-in for those hybrids that can travel on EV only charged from the grid (and by grid I include any renewable external sources like solar panels). These so called plug-ins have MPGe, MPG (charge sustain) and EV only range.

Any other sub category of HEVs (series, parallel, full, mild, start/stop, etc) adds nothing since, for example, a parallel plug in can be sized to get the same MPGe and EV range as a series.

There is one other wrench that is thrown into the system. The US (and other nations) have made attempts to sub categorize vehicles by 'technology" in order to provide incentives (the $7500 tax credit is an example). I have been involved (through SAE) to provide feedback to the government on issues with these policies. For example, they may want to give a credit for any vehicle that has a battery bigger than 15 kW, or by how much regen energy they capture, or by the size of the motor. The biggest issue I have with a category like this is that a bigger battery or the size of the motor does not necessarily make a better, more efficient car and vehicles will be designed around an incentive and not necessarily end up as a better car.

BTW, you make enough comments that you should really register on this site to get rid of the "not verified". At some point, it is nice to know who we are responding to.

· · 2 years ago

@regman, "The biggest issue I have with a category like this is that a bigger battery or the size of the motor does not necessarily make a better, more efficient car and vehicles will be designed around an incentive and not necessarily end up as a better car."

Yes! I believe that the Plug-in Prius has a battery just large enough to capture the lowest tier of tax credit. Coincidence? I doubt it.

· · 2 years ago

Not that I agree with everything in this link (www.thestreet.com/_yahoo/story/11379041/1/the-four-kinds-of-plug-in-cars...) but it is one of the best articles that makes an attempt to explain the differences in plug-ins.

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