By Matt Nauman
SAN FRANCISCO – Two very distinct vehicles testified to the growing maturity of the electric-car market at a presentation held on Sunday (Sept. 9) at a garage that specializes in repairing hybrid vehicles.
One, BMW’s ActiveE, is a sleek, two-door model that promises top-notch engineering and driving dynamics while producing zero emissions.
The other, a VIA Motors eRev pickup, might change the way large fleets going about their business. PG&E has been testing early versions of the truck and so far the results have been promising.
The gathering was the monthly meeting of the Golden Gate Chapter of the Electric Vehicle Association. Held at Luscious Garage, the sparkling clean facility at 475 9th Street specializes in repairing hybrids and electrics. It even does overnight repairs for hybrid taxis.
Dave Meisel, PG&E’s director of transportation services, said that the company has a huge stake in the success of electric vehicles – and that’s not just because PG&E sells electricity.
PG&E has 14,000 vehicles in its fleet. Of those, 3,500 are full-size pickups. And, each year, the company replaces 600 to 800 of those pickups with new ones. These are the best-selling vehicles in the United States and often get poor gas mileage.
Being able to use one of VIA Motors eRev (extended range electric vehicle) trucks could result in significant cost savings. Thanks to a 402-horsepower electric motor and lithium-ion batteries, the vehicles have an electric range of up to 40 miles. Then, the vehicles’ gasoline engine allows it to travel another 350 miles. (Click here to see a video about a VIA Motors event held at PG&E’s headquarters.)
Cleaner air, less fuel needed
Meisel did some quick math for the audience. Each VIA truck could result in a savings of $2,700 a year in fuel costs. Multiply that by the 3,500 full-size pickups in PG&E’s fleet and that would mean about $9.5 million in savings. That would save the company – and its customers – money, he said.
“We can have a significant change in our air quality plus cost savings in short order,” Meisel said.
Plus, thanks to its onboard power export module, the VIA trucks also offer exportable power (15 kW at 30 amps). That’s enough to run lights and hand tools. Boost that power, Meisel said, and the truck could provide enough energy to keep the lights on in a neighborhood for a short while utility crews repaired an outage.
“That’s a game-changer,” Meisel said.
VIA Motors is focused on fleets, said David West, its chief marketing officer. Besides PG&E, the company is working with Verizon, Coca-Cola and others. Next, he said, the trucks will become available to individual buyers.
West noted the VIA trucks aren’t conversions; they are authorized electrifications of the Chevy Silverado by its manufacturer, General Motors. GM also makes the Chevy Volt, a passenger sedan with similar technology.
West acknowledged the link.
“People call this the Volt truck,” he said. “This is an extended-range electric truck.”
BMW joins growing list of EV makers
Parked right next to the huge VIA pickup inside Luscious Garage were two gleaming white BWM ActiveE models. These will be leased to 700 “electronauts,” as BWM described them.
John Kalb, a Marin County contractor who installs electric vehicle chargers in homes and businesses, has been driving an ActiveE since March. His other car, a BMW 330i that uses gasoline, is now gathering dust.
“This is a fast car,” he said. “It drives like a BMW.”
At parties, he said, he gladly shares his keys with friends to take a short drive. They all come back, he said, “with that EV grin.”
The car’s range is about 100 miles, Kalb said.
In San Francisco, BMW is making the ActiveE available through the DriveNow program. Similar to other car-sharing programs, DriveNow lets people pick up the ActiveE from designated lots for errands and other trips.
BMW will follow the ActiveE with a version of the 3-Series that will be available either as a pure electric or as a range-extender hybrid, said Rich Steinberg, the U.S. manager of electric-vehicle operations for the German automaker.
Dale Miller, president of the local Electric Vehicle Association, remarked on the growing popularity of electric vehicles.
Later this month, National Plug-In Day will be celebrated across the United States. There will be events in San Francisco, Marin County, Cupertino and other locations throughout PG&E’s service area.
Email Matt Nauman at email@example.com.