Cleantech Market Intelligence
Maximum Bob Explores Both Ends of the EV Market
The annual Detroit Auto Show usually produces some interesting concepts and production introductions. Away from the mainstream activity of the big name OEMs, there were a couple of new companies showing products that they are bringing to the niche market.
VIA Motors has taken some large GM trucks, removed the V8 engine and transmission, and installed batteries, an electric motor, and a smaller V6 engine. A gas guzzler thus becomes a hybrid-electric vehicle with a zero-emissions range of about 40 miles and the capability of generating electricity in remote areas.
VLP is a startup company that had the opposite idea; the company has taken a Fisker hybrid, removed the battery and electric motor, and replaced them with a V8 engine and transmission from a Corvette. The extra size and breathing requirements of the engine means a new hood and different bumper fascias for the front and rear, but the Fisker styling is maintained. The buyer gets a stylish four-door vehicle with traditional American sports car performance and a familiar refueling experience.
The connection between these two companies is the well-known auto industry executive from Ford, BMW, Chrysler, and GM, Bob Lutz. Although retired, Mr. Lutz continues to remain actively involved in the automotive industry, and he has hit on a couple of niches that have not yet been explored. GM toyed in the past (2004) with a hybrid pickup truck with onboard electricity generation, but the vehicle’s cost premium kept sales volumes too low to make sense for an OEM. However, a small market can be serviced by a startup company without the overhead of GM.
Fisker has produced a very attractive sports car design, but sales have been disappointing and volumes need to grow in order to support production goals. Producing a gas-engine version is beyond the resources of Fisker, but if it can sell some extra vehicles without batteries and electric motors, that could help support the core business.
A nice concept would be to buy both vehicles and simply swap the powertrain, but unfortunately the performance requirements don’t match as nicely as that. However, the important concept is that there is a market for hybrid versions of conventional vehicles and conventionally powered versions of vehicles designed exclusively as hybrids. And OEMs are not necessarily the best companies to introduce them.