Friday, January 13, 2012

Via Motors, my favorite exhibit at the Detroit Auto Show

I went to Cobo Hall today to look around and kick some tires at the Detroit International Auto Show.  There were a lot of very impressive vehicles from manufacturers around the globe but the overall theme was that the domestic automakers are back strong and this is their town and their show.  GM, Ford, Chrysler all have very strong product lines that compete well with the other major companies from Japan, Germany, and Korea. 

One of my takeaways is that it seems the art and science of automobile design has become a very important part of the shared culture of humans around the globe.  There really isn't another invention quite like the automobile and people around the world have been refining and tweaking designs for over a century now and it really is amazing how far the whole enterprise has reached and how in spite of all of our differences, the automobile unites. 

OK, so now to my point. I think the most important vehicles out of all of them were the three plain looking large white vehicles at the Via Motors booth. Via Motors is a new company that takes an OEM pickup, SUV or van and converts it to an extended range electric vehicle, sort of like the Chevy Volt, powered by an electric drive train with a gas engine to charge a large large lithium ion battery if the charge runs low.  Electric-only range is estimated at 40 miles.   Here is a video to describe the vehicles and introduces Via Motors.

I have pointed out before that based on how CAFE math works, the full size pickup trucks and SUV's will soon have to be purged from the portfolios.   Why the Gas Hogs Have to Go..  It turns out newcomer Via Motors has figured out the way forward for the industry.  Electrify the worst offenders of poor mileage, where there is the most opportunity to save gasoline.

I had the opportunity to speak with the President of Via Motors today at the auto show.  He was a very down to earth and friendly person who was not a Detroit insider, and admitted he knew  little about the traditional automobile industry.  He openly discussed his company's business plans at the company display.  Via Motors is already booked solid with orders for the next few years without a single private buyer, all of the converted vehicles are headed to company fleets.  Interesting that the fleet buyers who select models based on economics and not style are clamoring for the Via Motors vehicles.

I don't know how long Via will operate with this virtual monopoly on a new segment of the industry they started before the rest of the industry swoops in to copycat the design and offer their own versions so its hard to say if Via is a long-term player or if they will just get gobbled up by one of the major automakers in the next few years.

Either way, we all win.  Great job Via Motors.  In my opinion this vehicle should have been the Motor Trend Truck of the Year.     

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