Utah-based Via Motors had never been to the big North American International Auto Show in Detroit, so when it decided to attend this year’s show to introduce a new line of all-electric truck conversions, the company had to make a splash. Consider that job done.
Via’s new truck line – a pickup truck based on the Chevy Silverado 1500, a four-wheel drive SUV based on the Chevy Tahoe and a cargo van based on the Chevy Express – are extended range electric vehicles that use use a 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack for power. The battery is powered by either a standard charge or by an onboard generator that is fed by an internal combustion engine. That combo produces 402 horsepower which will power the trucks for up to about 40 miles on electricity alone. As the battery is depleted, a 4.3-liter V6, gasoline-powered range-extending engine kicks in to provide a range of 400 miles. Via says the trucks will average about 100 mpg and will come with an optional onboard inverter that can be used in place of a tow-behind generator to power the workplace or provide emergency power.
At least one company, Pacific Gas and Electric, has already taken notice of Via’s work trucks. The California-based electric and gas utility partnered with Via Motors in 2008 to help develop the trucks and already owns two of them. For an electric utility like PG&E, the trucks can potentially provide on-site power to help shorten small outages, eliminate some planned outages for maintenance, and boost the electric grid when needed. The first-generation trucks “have a 15 kilowatt capacity,” PG&E said, equivalent to a generator for a small- or medium-sized house, and that amount could increase in future models.
Via’s trucks are not cheap, starting at $79,000, which is about twice the cost of a similar gas-powered truck. Via, however, is targeting fleet buyers like PG&E first. Via is betting that large utility with very specific needs could see both the utility and cost savings from the new line. Production for the pickup is set to begin in 2012 for an expected 2013 delivery and Via is taking website reservations now.