In a newspaper interview last week, the “father of the Chevy Volt,” Bob Lutz, said General Motors missed its original opportunity to apply the “extended-range electric” powertrain formula used by the Chevrolet Volt on a light-duty truck.
GM instead has a 2-mode hybrid which has sold weakly against heavy volume of its pickups and SUVs, and it’s discontinuing some of these models for this reason.
On the other hand, the economic advantage for what VIA Motors is doing is compelling, said Lutz of the Oregon-based start-up company he is promoting that converts GM products to series hybrids.
“We started at the wrong end. The whole automotive industry made the intellectual mistake of thinking EVs were all about maximum range, so we all started with small vehicles that are basically very economical anyway,” said Lutz of GM to the Seattle Times. “Yes, you do save fuel. You can use a smaller battery, but it makes less sense to take a 40 mpg vehicle and make it electric than it does to take a full-size pickup or SUV, which in town realistically gets 11 to 12 mpg.”
Lutz said if an automaker could change that 11 to 12 mpg to “100 mpg” then you save big and cut CO2 also.
He said also the realization came suddenly late that the right place to electrify is heavy vehicles.
Lutz noted also VIA is in a good place with its Chevy Express van to be first to launch, which will be followed by a pickup, then SUV. The company is focusing on fleets but will open up to retail customers.
VIA’s site says the trucks start at $79,000 for fleet orders. It says to be considered a fleet buyer, minimum orders are 50 units.
Lutz made no prediction of future sales for the fleet VIAs, but noted the retail market is one-quarter pickups, vans and SUVs, or over 3 million per year.
“Most of those 3.7 million people will stay with the gas-powered version,” said Lutz, “but if 10 percent would go VIA, that would be 300,000 units.”
Lutz’s one current criticism for pure battery powered cars is range.
He’s noted he appears to some as a contradiction of terms having once spoken against the Toyota Prius, and now with interests seemingly opposed.
“I have what is known as a very large carbon footprint,” he said. “I like high-powered cars like Corvette ZR1s, but on the other hand people have trouble figuring me out because I’m also deeply involved and a believer in vehicle electrification.”
So what is the answer? Electrification is effectively where the money will be, it’s just a matter of time, says Lutz.
“I like vehicle electrification because it will in the future be, by far, the most efficient propulsion form, and electric vehicles are great to drive. They’re quiet. They have enormous power,” he said.
Lutz also likened the electric powertrain to the early days of jets when they were replacing prop driven piston-engined aircraft after WWII.
“I was trained in propeller airplanes, and a lot of the old-time, propeller-driven fighter pilots who flew Corsairs in WWII said those jets are effeminate. There’s no big engine out there and no noise and no oil smoke, but I found that once I got in a jet, they were vastly superior,” said Lutz in his interview. “Early jets were the same as today’s early electric vehicles. The range wasn’t there. The fuel consumption was way up. The reliability was poor, et cetera, and now for long-range transportation we wouldn’t think of anything but a jet aircraft.”
Because the Volt and VIA trucks are range-extended, that makes more sense for now, he said.