VIA Motors has just begun delivering its first plug-in hybrid vans to customers this week. Deliveries of its hybrid pickup trucks to fleets will begin in February and to individual customers by the end of this year. But already, Chairman Bob Lutz tells Bloomberg he expects the company to be selling 50,000 plug-in hybrid trucks and vans a year by 2018.
Lutz told Bloomberg that FedEx, Pacific Gas & Electric, Duke Energy, and Verizon have already placed orders. Sun Country Highway — which operates a network of electric-car charging stations along Canadian highways — has also signed up for 1,000 pickups and vans, he says. Prices for the hybridized trucks are $65,000 for the pickup and $79,000 for the van. Since they are essentially the same vehicle under the sheetmetal, there is no explanation given for why the van costs a whopping $14,000 more.
The vehicles VIA offers are based on the standard Chevrolet Silverado full size pickup truck and the Express cargo van. VIA adds its own proprietary hybrid powertrain that allows both vehicles to have a combined fuel economy rating of 100 MPGe. Electric only range for the pickup truck is 40 miles; for the van it is 35 miles.
That’s assuming drivers actually remember to plug in once in a while. Fleet experience with the Chevy Volt has been dismal, since most fleet drivers can’t be bothered to recharge their vehicles and just continue to drive as long as there is gas in the tank. There is no word if Chairman Lutz is planning to ride along to make sure proper recharging procedures are followed. Unless the vehicles are plugged in, their real world fuel economy will be no different than the donor vehicles, which cost half as much to buy.
Bob Lutz is a legend in the automobile manufacturing business, of course, but will his hybrid trucks actually hit the 50,000 a year target he has set for 2018? Hybrid trucks have found it tough going in the marketplace. The road to hybrid heaven is littered with failures, from Boulder Electric to Echo Automotive. Ford and Chevy have both backed away from this market after playing with prototypes for years.
The reason, of couse, is the high cost of these beasts. It takes a massive battery to move a big, heavy vehicle and batteries are expensive. Some observers suggest that the battery in the Tesla Model S accounts for 40% of its purchase price. With gas prices plummeting, individuals may still want to have a high efficiency car to help save the environment, but the steely eyed accountants at the nation’s major corporations are unlikely to be swayed by such appeals to ecology. It’s the bottom line, baby. That’s all that matters.
If I were Mr. Lutz, I wouldn’t bet my entire personal fortune on the success of this VIA Motors adventure.