Since hiring Bob Lutz a few months ago, Utah-based VIA Motors has kept busy, and now it's preparing to show an extended-range pickup truck, 4WD SUV, and three-quarter-ton full-size cargo van at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Jan. 10.

As we reported in September when Lutz’s place on VIA’s board was announced, these are GM-based vehicles and the company says all three can drive 30 to 40 miles “on advanced, non-flammable, lithium ion batteries, then up to 400 miles using the onboard generator, averaging up to 100 mpg.”



 

Do you like the “non-flammable” qualifier about the battery that distances VIA from the Volt's ongoing issues? We don’t know who’s responsible for that marketing statement, but Lutz is otherwise taking the lead in promoting the vehicles intended first for fleets, then consumers.

"VIA Motors has developed the first extended-range electric powertrain capable of replacing the V8 engine,” Lutz said. “It was my great privilege to introduce the Chevy Volt, and it will be a great honor to introduce the world's first line of eREV trucks, vans and SUVs by VIA Motors."

The pickup’s production is scheduled to begin in 2012, VIA says, “with plans to ramp up production to 20,000 units per year over the next few years including the eREV SUV, van and other large eREV vehicles.”

These series hybrids utilize a proprietary 650-volt drive system technology designed for full-size trucks, and VIA says it employs "a streamlined second stage manufacturing process" to integrate its powertrain technology into new OEM vehicles it calls VTRUX.


 

It makes sense that Lutz is the front man on this initiative, as he was hired to “help move this along, particularly with GM, but also with other OEMs,” said David West, VIA’s chief marketing officer in September, “This kind of thing needs a lot of high-level buy-in.”

Being a quasi-celebrity “car guy,” with extensive industry connections, and known for his role in launching the Volt, Lutz is considered well positioned to help the aspiring truck manufacturer raise funds, open doors, and now also to pitch its vehicles to would-be customers.

The company is taking $1,000 fleet pre-orders for its pickup truck "from some of America's largest fleets," it says.

One option customers can check is all-electric range of either 20 or 40 miles meaning battery pack size is buyer-selectable.

The pickup's "anticipated selling price" for volume orders is $79,000 – obviously dependent on how they are outfitted, final production costs, and likely also the number of units purchased.

VIA says expected fleet account deliveries will begin some time in 2013.

Previously it has said it would like to sell to retail consumers as soon as 2013, so whenever this actually turns out to be, it's apparent the company will be looking to do so as soon as feasible.

WSJ Market Watch

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