Via Vtrux range-extended electric van outside Best Western hotel

Via Vtrux range-extended electric van outside Best Western hotel

VIA Motors has announced an $80 million purchase agreement with its Canadian distributor, Sun Country Highway, to deploy 1,000 of Via's range-extended electric Vtrux vans as shuttle vehicles at Best Western hotels.

The pact is important for Via, giving it a major commitment that could kick-start demand for its full-size commercial plug-in electric vehicles.

Sun Country Highway 401 corridor map

Sun Country Highway 401 corridor map

As for Sun Country, which we profiled three months ago, it continues to roll out its growing network of electric-car charging stations along Canada's secondary highways.

It has also expanded its network into Washington state, with further charging-station installations planned for Best Western locations in California, Florida, and Texas.

Because charging stations are the company's main business--purchasers pay all installation costs--Sun Country targets businesses with large capital budgets, which can justify the cost as a way of distinguishing themselves from competitors and attracting electric-vehicle owners to their sites.

So the Via/Best Western deal gives Via Motors a major purchase commitment, it secures a supply of plug-in vehicles for Sun Country, and Best Western will save thousands of dollars per year in operating costs for each vehicle--despite the much higher purchase prices.

Best Western can also utilize the on-site Level 2 charging stations it's having Sun Country install.

For electric vehicle enthusiasts, Best Western's use of range-extended electric vans will have the added benefit of getting "butts in seats" like few other plug-in initiatives to date.

Sun Country Highway electric-car charging station, Burnaby, BC, Canada [photo: Matthew Klippenstein]

Sun Country Highway electric-car charging station, Burnaby, BC, Canada [photo: Matthew Klippenstein]

Retail vs. wholesale

The expert wisdom is that increasing the number of people who experience a ride or drive in an electric car is likely the best way to get them to consider buying an electric car (short of Scandinavian-style taxes on combustion vehicles).

To that end, many electric vehicle clubs host ride-and-drive events to show off their different plug-in cars. And many enthusiastic owners loan their electric cars to friends, or give them rides.

These methods are effective and essential, but they can only reach a limited audience. An annual ride-and-drive event might attract 1,000 people each year at most. It's best viewed as retail advocacy.

The Best Western shuttle agreement, on the other hand, could introduce hundreds of people per day to electric transport at each property. This is a framework for wholesale advocacy.

When business travelers and vacationing families start to realize how smooth and quiet their ride is, the shuttle drivers can explain the joys of driving an electric vehicle.

Those drivers, of course, will focus first and foremost on their driving, on assisting passengers with luggage, answering questions about airports and schedules and other details, and so may not naturally offer information on the vehicles.

So it will be incumbent on Best Western to train its drivers on the benefits of the electric shuttle vans--if the company cares to make the effort, which we trust it will.

Following the Sun

Hotels are a naturally early target market for electrification of fleet vehicles. According to Sun Country, golf courses could be next.

The courses attract a generally affluent clientele who park their cars for 3 to 5 hours, perfect for a substantial battery recharge at a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station.

During the game, they putter around in already-electrified golf carts in between occasional bouts of hitting a small white ball. (Your contributor admits that, as a non-golfer, the attraction of the sport is elusive.)

As electric vehicle ownership broadens, especially among more affluent buyers, golf courses--and other businesses as well--will most likely come to view charging infrastructure upgrades as a standard part of their facilities.

You might almost say they're on par with the other amenities they offer.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.