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Top Car Leader Bob Lutz Joins Via Motors & Other Conversion News
Sep 30, 2011 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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We continue working to build awareness about the feasibility and potential for a giant gas-guzzler conversion industry. The news that automotive giant Bob Lutz has signed up with Via Motors is encouraging, as is the spotlight being shed on innovative conversions by the Electric Auto Association. We'll explain what's just happened and why it's important.

To build support for an industry that will deliver high-volume, warrantied, safe, affordable retrofits, we need a growing awareness of their benefits. And small startups need lines of communication into large automakers that can someday become partners. The news from Via gives us hope for both. (We also need attention-grabbing prototypes that validate imaginative technical solutions and compelling business cases.)

BOB LUTZ, known as "the ultimate car guy," had a hand or a major role in bringing the Dodge Viper, BMW Series 3, Dodge Viper, Ford Sierra and Explorer, GM Pontiac Solstice, Cadillac CTS, and many other vehicles to market, while influencing the direction of their companies. Most recently, he was a key force behind GM's decision to create and then mass-produce the Chevy Volt. (He's also a self-promoter, most recently with his new book, "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business," and he's controversial for 2008 his dismissal of global warming as "a total crock of ...")

At age 79, Lutz keeps saying he's retiring, but it doesn't happen. He's re-upped as a GM "senior advisor" and he's also advising Lotus. Now Orem-based Via Motors is trumpeting Lutz joining the company as a key advisor­news/­press-releases/­bob-lutz-joins-via-motors (See the full press release below.)


"In my long career working with GM, Ford, Chrysler and BMW, I considered the Chevy Volt the most important car we had yet made. I am now pleased to join VIA Motors to expand the vision of extended range electric vehicles and help build the next generation of electrified trucks, vans and SUVs. I believe VIA's extended range electric trucks will be a game changer, and drive the standard for clean, high performance, utility vehicles around the world."

It's very significant that a pioneer in electrifying passenger vehicles is shifting his attention to larger vehicles -- where benefits are far greater. (When you think about gallons/mile instead of miles/gallon, you see that a 35 MPG car becoming a 100MPG PHEV saves 2 gallons/100 miles -- but turning a 15 MPG truck into a 100MPG PHEV saves 5 gallons/100 miles.)

VIA'S PAST AND FUTURE: Via is the successor to Utah-based Raser Technologies, which in 2009 converted a Hummer 3 into a PHEV. (At­photos-groups.html see a photo with Felix at the wheel and a caption with links to our analysis at that time.) Back then, this was jaw-dropping because no one expected an iconic Hummer to plug in. CalCars zeroed in on the significance of a rare instance of an automaker cooperating on a third-party conversion, providing critical engineering systems information to Raser and integrator FEV.

VIA AND THE AUTO INDUSTRY: Now we discern other clues that the partnership on the Hummer may not have been a one-time alliance. Via CEO Alan Perriton comes from GM. And perhaps even more importantly, Nick Zielinski, the Volt's Vehicle Chief Engineer, has been Via's chief engineer for the past year. And neither Lutz's non-compete agreement with GM nor his deal with Lotus is a problem for his work with Via.

WHAT'S AHEAD FOR VIA? The company is concentrating on what are variously called "decontented vehicles" or "gliders." In these unusual arrangements, automakers provide new vehicles to other companies -- minus some or most of their drivetrain and related components. (GM famously provided over 400 Geo Metro sedans to a Massachusetts company, Solectria, in 1996-97, to become EVs, then "pulled the plug.")

Via aims to focus first on fleets, with trucks, followed by vans and SUVs. Via's VTRUX system is already in trials with Pacific Gas & Electric and others. The company expects eventually to provide products for consumers. (But it doesn't look like the fastest way drivers will be able to buy four-wheel-drive plug-in SUVs.) See a writeup with background, images, and video at­2011/­09/­27/­bob-lutz-to-consult-with-via-motors/

ANOTHER SCENARIO: We expect that sooner or later, vastly accelerated vehicle electrification will become a national imperative, in response to some combination of cost and awareness of the energy security and climate consequences of continued oil addiction. Then companies with large recent-model fleets will want to electrify them more rapidly than they can merely by replacing vehicles going out of service with new PHEVs or EVs. More ambitiously, they can become customers for Via (and other companies) to convert many of their existing vehicles. This could cost about the same as buying a new gas-guzzler, but it would result in far lower operating costs, and offer on-board power. While new vehicles offer a sizable market, the population of existing vehicles is far larger. Via could have the opportunity to expand rapidly, nationally, and even internationally, beginning with designs for the most popular large vehicles. (A giant carrot for this will be if a federal $7,500 tax credit, rather than today's puny 10% credit, applies to conversions. And third-party financing may be essential, especially for leasing.)

WHAT CONVERSION COMPANIES ARE OUT THERE? With this development, we've reorganized the CalCars page on gas-guzzler retrofits,­ice-conversions.html , moving up the companies now making news about conversions. We'll continue adding to our list and descriptions; please let us know if we've missed any organized efforts!

CONVERSION FLAVORS: Retrofits can become EVs or different types of PHEVs, depending on the needed range of the vehicles, as well as the design and space available, and, of course, the costs and benefits of each option. Via is taking the route of replacing the existing engine and converting the vehicle to a series PHEV -- also called an extended-range electric vehicle (EREV). ALTe Powertrain Technologies also uses this approach, but with smaller engines and motors for its pickup truck design. A different approach retains the original engine and adds electric components. That's the design in the prototype by Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies of Chicago. HEVT was founded by power engineering expert Dr. Ali Emadi. The company continues to seek investors and customers, with Prof. Ali still involved while he creates an advanced automotive research program at McMaster University near Toronto.

IDEAS ALSO COME FROM GARAGES: You'll hear about retrofits outside of corporate venues. The Electric Auto Association has long welcomed and fostered conversion projects. (CalCars and EnergyCS received its Keith Crock Technical Achievement Award in 2006 for our work on Prius conversions­calcars-news/­312.html .) The EAA magazine reports on projects that are low-cost and can be undertaken by ambitious and technically savvy individuals. New DIY solutions the EAA is highlighting could evolve into companies and high-volume products.

We're delighted to see two illustrated articles in the September 2011 issue of Current EVents, Vol. 43. No 9. Of its 48 pages, five are devoted to an in-depth description of a Fiat Spyder 124 sports car conversion. The team behind the project is EMotorWerks -- a SF Bay Area company now moving on to providing open-source designs for the BMW Series 3 and other high-performance vehicles.

You'll find five more pages detailing a project begun in 2006 to turn pickup trucks to "supplemental PHEV." The solution leaves the existing drivetrain intact, combining it with an electric drive system to help power the vehicle. This more modest solution avoids complexity by leaving the original ICE system to provide heat, air conditioning, power brakes and steering, and extended range. It also costs less. Inventor Paul Kydd of Partnership1 in New Jersey aims for a $10,000 cost of conversion. He hasn't put this information online, but the EAA article includes a wealth of information about what he tried and what worked, as well as a listing of his awarded patent and patent applications.

How can you read these? One more good reason to join the non-profit Electric Auto Association . The EAA has over 75 local chapters across the nation plus a few internationally. Base-level membership at $35/year gives you a PDF of current and back issues of Current EVents. (CalCars is an EAA special interest chapter, and you get the option to assign some a few dollars of your annual dues to us.) You may also check out the EV Development List, since 1991, a resource for EV hobbyists that provides a forum for information sharing among inventors, developers, and hobbyists.

EV CONVERSION CONVENTION: We've seen a few reports on the Missouri conference held last week: a preview at­autos/­electric-cars-converted-110924.html , a prize-winning conversion­2011/­09/­27/­3942637/­evtv-announces-winner-of-the-2000000.html and a general roundup plus profiles of a half-dozen vehicles at Gas2.0­author/­charis/ by reporter Charis Michelsen.

VIA PRESS RELEASE:­news/­press-releases/­bob-lutz-joins-via-motors/

Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz Joins Via Motors To Build Next Generation Electric Trucks, Vans & SUVs

DETROIT: Today, Bob Lutz, an icon of the automotive industry, and father of the Chevrolet Volt, announced he is joining VIA Motors, an electric vehicle company well positioned to build the next generation of electrified trucks, vans and SUVs .

"In my long career working with GM, Ford, Chrysler and BMW, I considered the Chevy Volt the most important car we had yet made. I am now pleased to join VIA Motors to expand the vision of extended range electric vehicles and help build the next generation of electrified trucks, vans and SUVs. I believe VIA's extended range electric trucks will be a game changer, and drive the standard for clean, high performance, utility vehicles around the world." Mr. Lutz also noted that light duty trucks are the top selling vehicles in America, with the pick-up truck remaining the number one selling vehicle twenty years-running.

Pick-up trucks are "the work horse of America" noted Mr. Lutz, and enjoy consistent robust sales because they are preferred by commercial fleets and consumers alike, from the heartland to the largest fleets in the country, including military and government. In addition, government fleets are now mandated to switch from petroleum to a cleaner and preferably domestic alternative fuel, such as electricity.

"We are excited to have Mr. Lutz joining the VIA team," said VIA CEO Kraig Higginson. "VIA can deliver trucks to the market today that cost no more to own and operate than gas trucks, but deliver electric full performance with near zero emissions and will continue to be even less expensive to operate as battery prices come down and gas prices continue to rise," added Higginson.

Light duty trucks and SUVs make up about half of all vehicles sold, yet account for a majority of emissions and oil consumption. "Trucks have been notorious for poor fuel economy in the past, but when electrified, they can have a much greater impact on reducing oil consumption and emissions than smaller vehicles, while offering a much faster payback," said Alan Perriton, Chief Operations Officer for VIA Motors, and himself a former senior executive at General Motors. "Electrifying one truck is like taking two small cars off the road," added Perriton.

The move to VIA Motors by Mr. Lutz is seen as a continued commitment to extended range electric vehicles, and as a way to foster greater cooperation between large OEMs and emerging technology companies.

Mr. Lutz' automotive career spans from 1963 to the present, and includes senior leadership positions at GM, Ford, Chrysler and BMW. Most recently, Mr. Lutz was Vice Chairman and Special Advisor, Design and Global Product Development for GM, retiring in 2010. From 1971 to 1974, Mr. Lutz served as Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing for BMW. He held various senior executive positions with Ford Motor Company from 1974 to 1986, including serving as Chairman of Ford of Europe, Executive Vice President of Ford International Operations, Executive Vice President of Truck Operations, and a member of the Ford Board of Directors. Mr. Lutz was with Chrysler from 1986 to 1998, including serving as President and Chief Operating Officer with responsibility for Chrysler's car and truck operations worldwide, and served as a member of Chrysler's Board of Directors. Mr. Lutz has been the driving force behind many vehicle advancements in his career, including, most recently, the extended range Chevrolet Volt introduced by GM in 2010.

VIA Motors is a privately held electric vehicle development and manufacturing company. VIA developed a proprietary 650-volt drive system technology designed for full size trucks called VIA V-Drive. In 2008, VIA engineers, working in cooperation with General Motors, demonstrated their technology in an extended range electric Hummer H3 that delivered over 100 mpg. VIA employs a streamlined second stage manufacturing process leveraging expert and well-established suppliers and world-class automotive engineering companies to integrate its proprietary EREV powertrain into new OEM vehicles it calls VTRUX. VIA VTRUX have a 40-mile EV range and up to 400-mile extended range, averaging over 100 mpg. VIA plans to sell to fleets for the first two years, then later to consumers. More information on VIA Motors may be found at: To see a video on VIA's new extended range electric VTRUX, go to­trucks.

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