Bob Lutz to join electric-vehicle startup VIA Motors
Tasks will include creating partnerships, serving on board
Lutz: Expanding the Volt vision
DETROIT -- Former General Motors product czar Bob Lutz has joined the board of VIA Motors, an Orem, Utah, startup that has developed a plug-in hybrid powertrain for pickups and other light trucks, initially for sales to fleet customers.
Lutz, 79, will help the company raise money and get its foot in the door as it seeks partnerships with automakers, David West, VIA's chief marketing officer, said in an interview today.
Lutz's role as an adviser to GM is unaffected by his joining VIA, a GM spokesman said. On Sept. 2, GM said it brought on Lutz as a part-time paid adviser in a broad role that will include product development, marketing and communications.
Lutz said at the time that his contract precluded him from consulting with other automakers, with the exception of British sports car maker Lotus, where he has been working as a part-time paid adviser. GM spokesman Alan Adler said today Lutz is allowed to do work with companies such as VIA.
VIA's GM ties
West said VIA's GM connections played a role in Lutz's decision to join the company. Alan Perriton, VIA's COO, ran GM Korea and is credited with creating the supply chain for GM's now-defunct Saturn brand. VIA's chief engineer, Nick Zielinski, was a lead engineer during development of the Chevrolet Volt.
"His main role will be to help move this along, particularly with GM, but also with other OEMs," West said. "This kind of thing needs a lot of high-level buy-in."
VIA buys Chevrolet Silverados from GM, then outfits the pickups with a plug-in electric powertrain that it developed, West said.
This fall, it plans to test about 35 of the vehicles with fleet customers, mostly large utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
'Expand the vision'
In a statement issued by VIA, he said: "In my long career working with GM, Ford, Chrysler and BMW, I considered the Chevy Volt the most important car we had yet made. I am now pleased to join VIA Motors to expand the vision of extended range electric vehicles and help build the next generation of electrified trucks, vans and SUVs."
VIA's powertrain allows the vehicle to drive about 40 miles on an electric charge. After that, it uses a small gasoline-powered generator to run an electric motor.
In an e-mail to Automotive News today, Lutz said the extended-range concept "makes even more sense, economically, in large vehicles" than in smaller cars like the Volt. The goal, he said, is to "duplicate the Volt proposition for pick-ups and large SUVs. This will get these popular vehicles into the 100mpg range."
A123 Systems Inc. supplies the powertrain's lithium ion batteries, which are under the bed of the pickup inside the frame rails.
In a statement, Perriton said: "Trucks have been notorious for poor fuel economy in the past, but when electrified, they can have a much greater impact on reducing oil consumption and emissions than smaller vehicles, while offering a much faster payback."
Kraig Higginson is VIA's CEO.
Dave Guilford contributed to this report.
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