Although the overall tone of this year's North American International Auto Show had a far lower emphasis on "green vehicles" than we've seen in recent years, we were nonetheless surprised to see three different niche companies with electric vehicles present on the main floor. Two of these compaines, Tesla and Coda, had all-battery EVs; the third, VIA Motors, has pickups and vans with electric drive and onboard generator for extended range driving, much like the Chevy Volt.
In fact, former GM Vice-chairman Bob Lutz is on the board of VIA. Lutz was the champion for the Chevrolet Volt during his tenure at GM and is largely credited for getting the Volt into production. Since the company is using GM vehicles as the platform for their conversions, having a solid connection to GM is vital.
Like the Volt, VIA is a Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E- REV; or alternately, REEV: Range-Extended Electric Vehicle), the same principle behind the Volt.
VIA obtains full-size pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs and does the conversion to turn those vehicles into electric vehicles. In terms of warranty, crash testing, and most other factors, these are still GM vehicles. Only the transmission has been removed (even the gas engine remains to run the generator), and a small electric motor roughly 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter by 11 inches long. The converted vehicle can be charged like other hybrids and EVs, and has an electric drive range of up to 40 miles. Then, when the generator takes over, it can continue for up to 300 miles in "range extender" mode. This gives the vehicles an MPGe rating of about 100 MPG, which is a huge leap from the 10 to 15 MPG average many of these large vehicles get as conventional vehicles.
The initial focus for VIA is on corporate fleets with a need for work trucks. An optional inverter allows the vehicle to be used as a mobile generator to provide electricity for remote and off-grid work sites. VIA is in limited distribution this year, but is expecting to begin selling to consumers in 2013. The company is taking reservations for the 2013 VTRUX pickup, which will have an anticipated sales price of $80,000. Like other hybrids, that's a big up front premium to pay. But for high mileage users, the fuel cost savings and lower maintenance requirements will make this a viable alternative.
written by Juan Miguel Ruiz, January 24, 2012
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