Electric motors come to big trucks by way of VIA

DETROIT—When you think “electric vehicle,” you probably think small—not necessarily Smart car small, but certainly Chevy Volt and Ford C-MAX small. That’s why VIA Motors’ unassuming black-carpeted booth at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is so surprising: These vehicles are anything but small.

On the contrary, VIA Motors’ modified electrified vehicles are enormous. They didn’t just go bigger, like Tesla did when it unveiled its seven-passenger Model X concept car, they went huge. VIA has developed the first extended range electric powertrain that can replace a V8 engine, which means it’s brawny enough to power vehicles such as the Chevy Silverado and Suburban.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
The X-Truck was one of three new VIA Motors vehicles on display in Detroit this week.

VIA showed off three new vehicles this week that will use its E-REV powertrain in 2014—the X-Truck (a lifted truck based off the Chevy Silverado), the Presidential (an SUV based off the Chevy Suburban), and a van (based off the Chevy Express). The three vehicles were introduced by Bob Lutz, a former vice chairman of General Motors.

The X-Truck, which is still in concept form, uses two of VIA’s VR-300 electric motors as well as a 5.3-liter V-8 engine. According to VIA, this means the X-Truck gets 800hp (horsepower) with 100MPGe (miles per gallon gasoline equivalent). “It can deliver the torque of a monster truck with the fuel economy of a Prius,” Lutz said.

Let me make one thing clear—VIA doesn’t make its own cars. Rather, it fits existing cars with its own E-REV powertrain. This powertrain lets vehicles drive the first 40 miles in all-electric mode, and then switch over to the existing gas-powered engine. While the vehicle is driving on the gas-powered engine, an onboard generator or “range extender” recharges the battery. VIA says that this combination of electricity, gas, and onboard generator, allow for up to 400 miles on a single tank.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
The X-Truck charges up. Certain vehicles also come with volt outlets where workers can plug in tools and other equipment.

At the moment, VIA only fits fleet vehicles—that is, vehicles for company fleets, such as Verizon and PG&E. Because fleet drivers usually need extra power, VIA fits certain vehicles with a power export option, which offers up 120 and 240 volt outlets on the side of the truck, van, or SUV. This lets workers quickly plug in appliances and tools necessary for their trade. VIA also fits all of its models with iPads in the head unit area, for battery management, trouble-shooting, and convenience.

But all that’s about to change. Within the next year, VIA plans to start selling its fitted E-REV vehicles to regular car buyers. The company is currently taking pre-orders for the truck (crew cab, extended cab, and standard cab), van, and SUV on its website. Pre-orders cost a refundable down payment of $1000, and the company anticipates selling the vehicles at between $60,000 and $80,000.

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