Cigar chomping auto exec Bob Lutz (who recently went from hating on electric vehicles to pushing GM to develop the Chevy Volt) introduced Via Motors yesterday at the 2012 North American International Auto Show by unveiling the company's first extended-range electric vehicle, a full-size light duty pickup truck called the eREV VTRUX. Lutz sits on the board of Via Motors, whose 100-mpg VTRUX attempts to replace a full V8 engine with a hugely powerful 402-horsepower electric motor (with 300 lb-ft of torque), a larger version of the same system that allows the Chevy Volt to beat EV range anxiety. The coolest thing about the VTRUX line is that the vehicles can serve as generators on the go, offering both 120V and 240V outlets for charging power tools, camping gear, or even your house as needed. Acceleration and top speed are a little on the weak side, with a 0-60 time of 9.7 seconds and a top speed of 85 mph due to the weight of the vehicle, but the VTRUX offers a payload of 1500 pounds and can be operated for less than 60 cents per the equivalent of a gallon of gas.
The Via eREV VTRUX pickup will go into production next year and ramp up production to 20,000 units at some point after that. Via also has an SUV and van in the works, both pictured here. All three vehicles, which are much larger than other extended-range EVs currently on the market, claim ranges of 30-40 miles on battery alone, with a total range of 350 miles using the generator, which works out to an average of 100 mpg, just like the Volt. Alan Perriton, VIA Motors’ COO and another former GM executive, said that all VIA vehicles “can deliver the power and performance of a V8, with better fuel economy than many smaller cars, by driving on electricity for about $2 a day.” The idea, according to Perriton, is to “electrify the most popular vehicles in America,” giving mainstream buyers practical options that are green and save them thousands on maintenance and gas. We had a unique opportunity to test drive the eREV VTRUX in the basement of Cobo Hall in Detroit, where they had an entire fleet of new EVs ready to zip around an indoor test track cleanly and silently. We were impressed with the easy acceleration of the VTRUX, though we didn’t have the space to get up to high speeds. The VTRUX keeps the weighty feeling of its traditional gas engine cousin, but it also feels light on its feet and is refreshingly devoid of fumes. All we could hear as we zipped around the test track was the tires squeaking on the super clean floor, and the only feeling was of smooth electric power underneath and the breeze in our face through the window. We can see how people would love these rebadged Chevy trucks and vans once they realize that an electric truck can mean the utility of a truck with zero emissions, zero noise, and significantly lower costs. Who knows how Via will fare, but we’re sold on the concept.