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Top Car Leader Bob Lutz Joins Via Motors & Other Conversion News

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  • Felix Kramer
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2011
      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.

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
      viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
      add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      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 advisor
      (See the full press release below.)

      LUTZ IDENTIFIES THE NEXT BIG THING: "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. (At
      http://www.calcars.org/photos-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 at

      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,
      http://www.calcars.org/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
      conversions http://www.calcars.org/calcars-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
      http://www.emotorwerks.com -- 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 http://www.electricauto.org . 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 at
      http://news.discovery.com/autos/electric-cars-converted-110924.html ,
      a prize-winning conversion
      and a general roundup plus profiles of a half-dozen vehicles at
      Gas2.0 http://gas2.org/author/charis/ by reporter Charis Michelsen.


      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: http://www.viamotors.com To see a video
      on VIA's new extended range electric VTRUX, go to

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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