DETROIT -- For former GM product czar Bob Lutz, his latest project is hitting the startup sweet spot, shipping retrofitted hybrid pickups to fleet customers.
Lutz, 81, is non executive chairman of VIA Motors, which just delivered the first 40 plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid work trucks to fleet customers. Another 200 units of retrofitted Chevrolet Express vans are in transit. In the first quarter VIA will add Chevy Silverado pickups hybrids to the production line at its Mexico plant near General Motors’ Silao assembly plant. It has signed up about 50 U.S. Chevrolet dealers.
“It’s been about five years to get to this point,” Lutz said in an interview outside GM headquarters here. “Now we need to get those Chevy dealers going so they can deliver trucks to waiting customers.”
The VIA Express and Silverado hybrids operate much like the extended-range hybrid Chevrolet Volt that Lutz championed when he was GM vice chairman.
The trucks can operate in purely electric mode for about 40 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in to provide power to the battery driving the electric motor driving the wheels. Then the vehicles can operate as long as they have gasoline.
“It’s the ideal solution,” Lutz said. “Use the battery pack for 40 miles of pure-electric range, then the engine gives you unlimited range [using gasoline].”
The VIA system uses lithium-ion batteries manufactured by A123 in Livonia, Mich. On the Silverado, they fit between the frame rails, largely in the space occupied by the transmission on a conventional pickup.
The crew-cab Silverado hybrids are set up to provide electric outlets for power tools, the customer’s choice of two 240-volt or four 110-volt plugs. In a pinch, the vehicles can act as electrical generators with enough juice to power a house.
The first customers are all fleets including Federal Express, Verizon and several utility companies. But Lutz expects that by year-end after back orders are filled, VIA’s dealer network will start to sell to individuals looking for vehicles with the cargo and passenger capacity for family vacations with power.
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