Automakers are having a hard time selling electric vehicles in volume. But retrofitters aiming for tiny niches are proliferating.
With business models geared to selling small batches of electrified vehicles to utilities, governmental units and the like, you might say that retrofitters are playing small ball.
But they see a steadily growing market of customers who are motivated to make their fleets green -- and who want to cut fuel costs for their fleets. They also avoid the heavy capital expense of developing their own vehicle.
Alan Perriton, COO of Orem, Utah-based Via Motors, sees a niche in converting full-sized General Motors trucks and vans for fleets. Via plans to sell 2,000 to 2,700 units this year, with a target of 20,000 in 2013. The company plans retail sales in 2013 but is moving into that segment slowly.
"We will have all that we can handle in supporting the demand that's coming from high-end fleet users," Perriton said in a recent interview.
GM provides vehicles to Via, which has them retrofitted by Roush Engineering with Via's proprietary plug-in hybrid powertrain.
One advantage Via has is access to the GM product electrical coding, which was facilitated by having former GM product development chief Bob Lutz on its board. He also helped when the Via-GM relationship seemed to be put on a back burner during the transition from Ed Whitacre to Dan Akerson as CEO.
"Things slowed down a little bit," Lutz recalled in an interview. "Then I made sure that [Via CEO] Kraig Higginson got a sit-down with Dan Akerson."