OREM — A small Utah County company is about to make big strides in the automobile industry. They've put a new spin on electric vehicles, and this week scored a $20 million contract to take their idea to the next level.
"As far as getting into production on this vehicle, it's just happening right now. It's very exciting," said Kraig Higginson, CEO of VIA Motors.
Utah is not known for automobile manufacturing, but that's kind of what's going on at Higginson's company. A handful of VIA employees are taking gasoline-powered vehicles from GM trucks, vans and SUVs, and "electrifying" them. That is, adding electric motors, generators and other gadgets.
"We remove some of the components that come from the factory, and then we replace the drive system with the VIA drive system," Higginson said.
The result is an electric-powered vehicle that gets about 40 miles on a charge, before the gas engine takes over. There's nothing new about that, but VIA Motors has found a niche.
"The light-duty pickup (truck), the van and the SUV consume about 70 percent of all the fuel used in America. They are gas guzzlers," Higginson said.
Who's driving a lot of those guzzlers? Businesses with large fleets — Coca Cola, FedEx, utility companies, universities and the like — that use vehicles to drive similar, short routes every day.
VIA began working with some of those companies to see if the modifications make a difference. A California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, has been using these vehicles for two years.
"They estimate they'll save between $9 million and $11 million a year in their fleet by converting to standard range electric trucks that we have," Higginson said.
In the vehicles, a volleyball-sized electric motor gives the vehicle the same power as a V8 engine and triple-digit mileage — roughly 105 miles per gallon of gas.
This week, VIA announced the $20 million contract it received to begin upgrading 50 vehicle fleets for businesses across the country.
"By the end of 2014, we hope to have 10,000 units produced and out the door. The next year it will double, and the next year it will double again," Higginson said.
With those kinds of projections, VIA is already planning to expand its vehicle work areas and bring on additional employees.
In the near future, the company also plans to begin working with consumers who want to take advantage of the same technology in their personal vehicles.