Forbes Writes Article on VIA Motors’ Fleet Utility Electric Hybrid Truck to Power Your Home
Forbes.com contributor Ucilia Wang writes great article on VIA Motors entitled “Electric Hybrid Truck Designed For Utility Fleets That Can Power Your Home”
“If you can soup up a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, what features would you want? For some fleet managers, turning plug-in hybrids into a source for powering up construction tools or buildings during a blackout is high on the list.
That’ why Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has been helping VIA Motors to convert new General Motors trucks into plug-in hybrids with the ability to export a large amount of power. The utility, the largest in California, envisions sending a bunch of these trucks into the field for routine maintenance work and to deal with emergencies. The amount of exportable power here will be large enough to run hydraulic lifts to send workers up to do powerline repairs or serve as backup power for homes and tools while workers fix faulty circuits or transformers, said Dave Meisel, director of transportation services at PG&E.
Hybrid cars offer fuel savings over time – the price of gasoline has risen and will continue to increase at greater rates than the price of electricity – as well as environmental benefits such as lower emissions, he said. As federal and states introduce stricter fuel economy and emission standards, businesses must comply by buying vehicles with more fuel-efficient engines or ones that run on cleaner sources of fuels. But alternative-fuel vehicles also tend to cost more partly because they aren’t made in large volumes, and fleet managers very much focus achieving a reasonable payback period for their investments. Adding the exportable power feature creates additional savings for fleet owners like PG&E, Meisel said. It eliminates the need for buying portable generators that run on fossil fuels, for example. Using the hybrid trucks to reduce the length of a blackout also is an attractive proposition for utilities, which face fines if their customers experience a high number of outages or if they can’t restore power quickly.
“We are looking at broader savings that a lot of people are not looking at,” Meisel said. “When I look at the total operational savings, including fuel savings, the math starts to look really nice.” PG&E has about 9,000 vehicles in its fleet, and roughly 3,100 of them run on alternative fuels, such as natural gas, electricity and biodiesel.
PG&E has been field-testing two VIA trucks since last year and giving the car company feedback about its experience and suggestions for improvements. The utility estimates that the trucks could deliver annual fuel maintenance savings of $7000 per vehicle compared with conventional trucks, said Greg Pruett, senior vice president of corporate affairs at PG&E, during a press event at the Detroit auto show earlier this month when VIA discussed its plans to launch not just hybrid trucks but also hybrid SUVs and vans. VIA plans to convert only GM models, such as the Chevy Silverado, for now.
VIA has developed a powertrain that includes a 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which can last up to 40 miles per charge. The gasoline engine is for generating electricity to run the electric motor, which moves the wheels. The company is putting its technology in brand new vehicles only, not used cars. When VIA Motors showed up at the Detroit auto show, its executives rattled off a list of things that people can do with vehicles that double as power generators, such as catering to outdoor parties and running outdoor concerts.
“Think of a 3-day camping trip where you have unlimited power with the car you drive into the woods with,” said Bob Lutz, a member of VIA’s board of directors and the former vice chairman of GM, during a press conference at the auto show.
The two VIA trucks PG&E has been trying out cost about $400,000 total, Meisel said. The trucks are the early version of what VIA plans to produce commercially later this year, Meisel said. The price for the trucks at “low volumes” should be in the $70,000 range, and it should continue to drop as production increases, he added.
VIA isn’t the only company PG&E is turning to for converted hybrids with exportable power. The utility also is considering vehicles from Electric Vehicle International, which turns beefier pickup trucks to plug-in hybrids. VIA’s truck delivers 15 kilowatts of exportable power (which is usually the size of a generator for a small to medium-sized home, PG&E said) and is working on boosting that to 50 kilowatts while Electric Vehicle International is working on trucks with 100 kilowatts of exportable power. Figuring out a good way to cool the equipment that generates and routes the power becomes a greater hurdle as the size of exportable power increases.
PG&E and other fleet owners are turning to companies that can do after-market conversion for now partly because major automakers have yet to introduce the plug-in hybrid version of the trucks that the fleet owners want to buy. But that day will come if consumers continue to show interest in electric cars (and the prices for them drop). When that happens, companies such as VIA Motors may find it difficult to compete, said Kevin See, an analyst with Lux Research.
“There may be a short-lived window for them to make their mark,” See said. “I wouldn’t expect their businesses to be long-term because of the competition that will enter the market.”
To view the full article, please visit Forbes.com.