In Utah, the state’s largest utility provider, Rocky Mountain Power is embarking on a new truck test. It has acquired two of the GM-based extended range electric pickups from VIA motors, using the vehicles to determine if they will save enough in fuel costs and prove durable enough and help the company’s bottom line. If the test proves successful it could pave the way for a full-scale fleet order.

Orem-based VIA Motors, officially introduced its line of extended-range pickups, vans and SUVs back at the North American International Auto Show in January. And with Bob Lutz appointed to its board of directors, VIA has essentially the ideal spokesman for promoting its eREV vehicles.

Using a 650-volt drive system specifically engineered for full-size pickups, the eREV GM based trucks are capable of traveling a distance of 30-40 miles on electric power alone and up to 400 miles using the on-board gasoline generator to replenish the vehicle’s “non flammable” lithium ion battery pack. According to information released by VIA Motors, this enables fuel economy figures of up to 100 miles per gallon. As for charging, the truck can have the battery replenished in four hours using a 240-volt outlet, 11 with a standard 110-volt household unit.

“We’re excited to take this truck on an extended test drive,” said Rocky Mountain Power’s President and CEO Richard Walje.

Walje says the utility company plans to press the eREV pickups into regular fleet use, which will include “loading them up with lots of equipment, towing things with them and validating how they will actually work for as a replacement for the fleet have.”

Although it’s far too early to tell how effective the pickups will prove in service, it’s going to be interesting to see how they perform.

VIA Motors’ President Alan Perriton, believes that electric fleet vehicles could, down the road, not only help utilities save on fuel costs and reduce emissions but also perform other functions, such as supplying power to neighborhoods, while crews work to fix power outages, “a sort of traveling power station, he said.”

Back in January at NAIAS, VIA Motors said it planned to begin manufacturing the trucks in 2012, with actual fleet deliveries scheduled to commence sometime in 2013. Given this week’s announcement, there’s every indication the company is on track to make good on those projections.

Deseret News