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

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.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 11:03 AM, dlwatib wrote:

    Hybrids will never steal market from Tesla. It will be the other way around. Via is only viable as a company until Tesla puts a full sized pickup on the road. After that, it's toast.

    The truth of the story is that GM could have put this together itself, but they didn't see enough of a profitable market to want to do so. GM only sells the Volt and the ELR because the government forces them to. They lose money on each one.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 11:44 AM, StanO6 wrote:

    Pure BEV is clearly the best solution. Less parts. ICE "range extenders" are a band-aid at best. Imagine a pick-up truck with a full size (front) trunk, more torque than any ICE truck and less parts. That's the BEV advantage.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 2:24 PM, nonqual wrote:

    Tesla has lost money on every car it has ever sold. It's big battery only design is a scourge on the environment; it's just the waste and harm occurs in mines and smelters far away and out of sight of the selfish smug elitists whose conspicuous consumption is subsidized by middle class tax payers.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 3:34 PM, phillipzx3 wrote:

    Have these "authors" ever listened to Musk? His intention is to "force" auto makers to join in on the EV revolution, not compete with him. The more the merrier, as far as he's concerned. Most likely they'll be seeking (buying) products from his company anyhow, so it's a 'win-win' for him.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2014, at 2:10 AM, so75 wrote:

    @nonquol.

    1. Tesla makes roughly 10k per car. (Not counting ZEV credits.) Google it.

    2. The batteries are 100% recyclable. Google it.

    3. All auto makers that produce hybrids and EVs are getting tax credits. These are CREDITS...not tax money directly. There is a difference. I received a tax CREDIT to put in a high efficiency furnace from dte energy. Google it.

    4. But of course. Oil hasn't had any negative impacts...right nonqual? I mean...you sure seem to be defending status quo!

    *sigh* It's too bad there are so many short sighted, angry people out there who can't see past their own stupidity. I just hope these morons don't derail Tesla, SpaceX and other forward thinking companies.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2014, at 8:35 AM, ToddRLockwood wrote:

    @nonquol:

    Tesla's gross margin on the Model S is 25% — one of the highest in the industry. Most other manufacturers are below 15%.

    Moderately priced electric cars are coming. Get used to it. Only an idiot will drive a gasoline powered car in 2020 and pay 5 to 10 times as much for fuel.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 1:41 AM, Stymie67 wrote:

    @nonquol

    Tesla's batteries have a negative footprint, yes. But in total, considering the batteries too, its negative footprint is significantly smaller than most autos, and reasonable smaller than the highest efficiency hybrid. That's assuming status quo. If we assume a continued progression of solar-powered charging, the gap gets even wider. Those are the demonstrable facts.

    No problem if you dont like the company or its customers, but spewing nonsensical fiction doesn't really help you or any of us.

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