Will These Electric Pickups Steal Tesla's Biggest Potential Market?

Tesla Motors says that it will build an electric pickup -- someday. But this company is making hybrid pickups right now.

Jun 21, 2014 at 10:30AM

Via Vtrux In Detroit

Via Motors' VTRUX is a Chevrolet Silverado fitted with a full plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Via Motors says the VTRUX can get up to 45 miles of electric-only range on a full charge. Source: Via Motors

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk is full of interesting ideas. A while back, he tossed out a good one: He'd like to see Tesla make an all-electric pickup truck.

Tesla's luxury sedans have sold well -- for luxury sedans. But pickups are a whole different league in terms of sales numbers: Ford (NYSE:F) sells more F-Series pickups in a good month than Tesla has sold cars -- ever. It's the biggest market segment in America, one that could give a strong Tesla entry a whole lot of added sales in a hurry.

An all-electric pickup that made good financial sense could be a huge hit with cost-conscious commercial-fleet buyers, especially if gas prices start rising again. It's a market that Tesla might wade into at some point down the road. But as Motley Fool senior auto specialist John Rosevear points out in this video, another American start-up -- a company called Via Motors -- is offering a plug-in hybrid pickup to buyers right now, and Consumer Reports says it's pretty good. Will this new company steal Tesla's thunder?

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear, senior auto specialist for Fool.com. We don't talk a lot about start-ups here at The Motley Fool, we mostly look at companies that are public, that anyone can invest in. But here's a company that has made some noise recently that's worth a closer look, especially for investors in companies like Tesla Motors and other alternative transportation companies.

It's Via Motors, this is a company that offers plug-in hybrid versions of full-sized pickups and commercial vans.

Now, they're not building trucks from scratch. As you can see in the photos, their vehicles start life as General Motors (NYSE:GM) products, Chevy Silverados or Chevy vans, and then Via Motors converts them to a plug-in hybrid drivetrain at a factory in Mexico. Via Motors claims that the trucks have a range of up to 45 miles on batteries alone, and then a "range extender" kicks in, that's a gasoline-powered engine that acts as a generator, like in the Chevy Volt, with the range extender it can go 400 miles on a tank of gas if it starts with the batteries fully charged. 

The range extender these trucks use is GM's 4.3 liter V6, normally the smallest engine offered in the Silverado, but it's not what's driving the trucks in this case, there's an electric motor that Via says is good for 402 horsepower.

The claim is that if you drive 60 miles a day and charge it up every night, you'll effectively get 100 miles per gallon or more. That's something that could be of great interest to commercial fleet operators, contractors and oilfield services companies and mining firms and delivery companies and all sorts of other service providers, these folks buy a lot of America's pickup trucks and vans and like any good business people they are always looking to save money. And these trucks have some other little advantages too, like they can serve as a generator at a job site if there's a blackout.

Consumer Reports drove one of Via Motors' pickups and said that it pretty much drove like a Chevy Silverado, smooth and quiet, though they said it might not be quite as quick to accelerate as a conventional V8 powered Silverado. But still, it could represent significant savings for some businesses in some cases.

It's not cheap, Via will lease it to you for $752 dollars a month according to their website. GM has a deal going right now where they'll lease you a 2014 Silverado double cab with that 4.3-liter V6 for $299 a month for 36 months, of course if you want a V8 and a crew cab and stuff you'll pay more, but not anywhere near $700 dollars a month.

We've heard Tesla CEO Elon Musk talk about an electric Tesla pickup that might come at some point, that could be a genuine game-changing product, but meanwhile Via Motors is offering an incremental step in that direction, a hybrid pickup, and it's something to keep an eye on. Thanks for watching.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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