Bob Lutz and the Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
Bob Lutz may have taken a part-time advisory post with GM 16 months after officially retiring from his post there, but now he has a second job too. The former Vice Chairman of General Motors--and the man credited as the driving force behind the Chevrolet Volt--now seems to be working at electric car conversion company Via Motors as well.
Announced yesterday on the Via Motors website, Lutz’s position at the company is unclear, although in a press release accompanying the announcement Lutz said that he was “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”
But why would the 79-year old former Vice Chairman of the world’s second largest automaker join a fledgling conversion company?
Firstly, Via specializes in converting GM vehicles, specifically Chevy trucks, SUVs and Minivans.
Currently however, Via is only taking reservations on its extended range pickup. Based on the Chevrolet Silverado, it is aimed squarely at the fleet market, where the savings offered by a plug-in vehicle are often larger than they would be for retail consumers.
2010 Chevrolet Silverado HybridEnlarge Photo
As former Vice Chairman of GM, Lutz is familiar with GM’s entire range -- and will continue to be thanks to his new advisory position on GM’s board. By joining Via, Lutz gives the firm an invaluable line to the company and vehicles it is basing its products on.
Secondly, while Lutz’s history with electric and plug-in vehicles hasn’t always been rosy, his most recent years at GM has shown him to be a plug-in vehicle convert, playing a pivotal role in helping the Chevrolet Volt to market.
With his existing knowledge of plug-in vehicle technology and GM’s products, Via couldn’t hope for a better ally.
Thirdly, we think it’s important to remember that Lutz is a businessman who is well aware of the vast, untapped market potential of plug-in light-duty vehicles like pickup trucks, larger SUVs and Minivans.
And while GM might be concentrating firmly on plug-in cars for the time being, light-duty pickup trucks represent a large, generally untapped portion of the market where fleet managers are willing to spend extra money up-front if it results in lower running costs and huge fuel savings.
That said, we’re still wondering what Lutz’s new position really means. After all, Via isn’t the first small-scale electric vehicle conversion company.
The key may lie in rival conversion company AMP Electric Vehicles, which is currently converting 1,000 Mercedes ML SUVS to fully electric SUVs for an Icelandic energy firm. Interestingly, AMP's first conversion was a previous-generation Chevrolet Equinox SUV, but the firm is now concentrating on Mercedes SUVs.
By allowing Via to convert its commercial vehicles to include a plug-in hybrid or range-extended electric drivetrain, GM minimizes its own financial risk, while knowing that Lutz is on tap to ensure that things don’t go wrong.
And by converting GM’s own products with Lutz’s oversight, Via has the enviable position of proving itself worthy of a possible future partnership with GM.