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.

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