Via Motors to collaborate with Chinese maker Geely on electric trucks

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Bob Lutz at Via Motors extended-range electric truck conversion launch, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

Bob Lutz at Via Motors extended-range electric truck conversion launch, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

Electric trucks are getting more attention now than they did eight years ago, as the world prepared for the launch of the first modern electric cars to be sold in volume.

The Tesla Semi tends to draw enormous amounts of attention, while less glamorous fleet buyers are ever more favorable toward plug-in electric trucks for known urban routes within their battery range.

But one company that's been around for many years has been relatively quiet of late.

DON'T MISS: Via Motors 100 MPG Electric Pickup Launching At Detroit (Dec 2011)

That would be Via Motors, founded eight years ago to sell plug-in hybrid versions of General Motors pickup trucks and full-size vans.

Once the company added former GM product chief Bob Lutz to its board, it too generated a lot of press. Then ... radio silence.

Now the company is looking, as are so many others, toward China.

Via Motors extended-range electric pickup truck

Via Motors extended-range electric pickup truck

Via Motors extended-range electric van

Via Motors extended-range electric van

Via Motors extended-range electric van

Via Motors extended-range electric van

Via Motors Vtrux extended-range electric pickup.

Via Motors Vtrux extended-range electric pickup.

A release issued by Via in late January announced an agreement to collaborate in a new joint venture with Jiang Geely Commercial Vehicle Co., the truck arm of Chinese maker Geely.

That's the company that now owns the Volvo brand, which launched its first plug-in hybrid in 2013 and now offers plug-in versions of every vehicle it sells.

It will launch its first volume battery-electric model, the Volvo XC40 EV, sometime this year or next.

WATCH THIS: Jay Leno, Bob Lutz, Talk Plug-ins, Drive Via Plug-in Hybrid Truck (Jul 2012)

The proposed joint venture between Via and Geely will, the company said, "launch a line of green ... commercial vehicles for sale and distribution in North and Latin America."

Via will be responsible for building, selling and marketing those vehicles in those markets.

The company will also codevelop a medium-duty truck for Geely in China, "under an exclusive arrangement [that] includes a technology transfer of Via software and control systems."

Bob Lutz at Via Motors extended-range electric truck conversion launch, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

Bob Lutz at Via Motors extended-range electric truck conversion launch, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

That sounds to us as though it will use Chinese-made battery cells, electric motors, and power electronics, but Via will provide the intellectual property to make the whole thing run.

Plug-in electric vehicles built in China not only require special licenses before production can start, they must also use battery cells from an approved list of (Chinese) vendors.

The goal behind that restriction is to ensure the country's automotive-battery sector will grow at the same pace as its electric-vehicle sales.

CHECK OUT: Via Motors Latest To Try Electric Vehicle-To-Home Backup Power Tech (Aug 2013)

Meanwhile, Via continues to develop and market both extended-range and battery-electric powertrains that it says can be fitted to "most vehicle classes, from light-duty through Class 8" trucks.

The company now operates production facilities in the U.S. (in Utah) and Mexico, where its Via Vtrux vehicles and V-Drive powertrains are built.

Via delivered its first plug-in hybrid vans in late 2014, but the privately held company has not said how many powertrains or vehicles it has sold over the past three years.

 
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