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Posted on March 22, 2012

For PG&E, Adding VIA Motors Pickups to its Fleet Saves Gas, Means Fewer Emissions

By Matt Nauman

Via Truck

The VIA Motors pickups not only can plug into a standard electrical outlet or an electric-vehicle charger, it has a gasoline engine that extends its driving range. (Photos by Matt Nauman.)

SAN FRANCISCO – PG&E has about 13,000 vehicles in its fleet, including about 3,500 full-size pickups, SUVs and vans.

On Thursday (March 22), the next-generation of those workhorse vehicles was put on display.

PG&E and VIA Motors showed off two extended-range electric pickup trucks at an event at PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters. The vehicles promise a plethora of advantages – driving with electricity, less pollution and exportable power, to name three – that could significantly benefit PG&E customers throughout California.

“This is a game-changing technology,” said Alan Perriton, chief operations officer for VIA Motors and a former General Motors senior executive.

Joining Perriton at the news conference were Bob Lutz, a former vice chairman of GM and a VIA board member; Greg Pruett, a PG&E senior vice president; and Dave Meisel, PG&E’s director of transportation services.

Via Motors: Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz, considered the father of the Chevrolet Volt, says a full-size vehicle with a similar powertrain technology might even have more potential.

All four men spoke about the potential of the VIA Motors eREV (Extended-Range Electric Vehicle) pickups and vans.

Pruett noted that PG&E is the first utility to test the vehicles in its fleet. He said the trucks could have the same revolutionary impact as did the cell phone for the telecommunications industry. Replacing a traditional gasoline-only pickup with a VIA eREV could result in annual savings of $2,700. If PG&E were to fully implement the technology, it could mean saving more than $9 million in fuel a year, Pruett said.

Lutz is considered to be the father of the Chevy Volt, a small car that has similar technology to the VIA pickups. “Electrifying one pickup truck is like taking two cars off the road in terms of gas mileage,” he said.

Meisel has been working on the project since 2008. The vehicle has been designed to meet the needs of utility customers, such as PG&E, he said.

That’s one reason it offers exportable power – 15-kilowatts now, but Meisel is hoping for more – that allows work crews to run power tools and lights right from the truck itself.

Via Motors: Greg Pruett

Greg Pruett, a PG&E senior vice president, told the media that the utility could save nearly $3,000 in fuel costs per vehicle per year by converting to VIA Motors pickups.

One day, Pruett said, PG&E could be able to use that power to provide electricity to customers during power outages. Ultimately, he said, the trucks could allow PG&E to have very few planned outages, those times when the utility has to cut off power to customers while it’s doing maintenance or upgrade projects.

“Planned outages could go the way of pay phone booths,” he said.

In January, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, PG&E and Via Motors unveiled the first eREV models. Today, PG&E took delivery of a more production-ready version of the truck.

The trucks offer many benefits:

  • Reduced emissions: Gas consumption and emissions are reduced by 77 percent as crews will primarily use them on shorter trips when  they’ll be driving on electricity
  • Reduced operational costs: Both fuel and maintenance costs will be less than with traditional gasoline-only or diesel models.
  • Increased emergency response: The trucks will serve as a mobile generator, providing on-site power for crews and quieter operation in neighborhoods.

PG&E’s Efrain Ornelas shows off another advantage of the VIA Motors trucks – they provide exportable power to run tools and lights during an emergency response.

The numbers tell some of the story, Perriton said. The Via eREV has a 40-mile electric-vehicle range, a 400-mile extended range, would typically average about 100 miles per gallon and also includes a 15-kW power source.

People who hear this come up to Perriton and say, “When can I get my hands on one?” The vehicles are slated to go into full production in late 2012 or early 2013. At least at first, fleets are the target customers, Lutz said.

But he knows that they’ll appeal to some individual consumers, too.

“I know I want one,” Lutz said.

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