VIA Motors is not the newest entry into the electric vehicle market. It has more than a decade of experience in vehicle and fleet electrification. Founded in 2010, the electric vehicle development and manufacturing company began converting General Motors vehicles into plug-in hybrids but are now introducing a portfolio of fully electric commercial vehicles for fleets.
CEO of VIA Motors, Bob Purcell, recalled the shift from plugin hybrid conversions to fully electric commercial vehicles.
“Several years ago, I saw the future for electrification for commercial fleets. The use case was perfect, with predictable routes, frequent start/stops, and a demand for sustainability. It made perfect sense, so we changed our approach and focused on a fully electric skateboard platform,” he said.
Today, VIA has developed VDrive, a skateboard-based platform, which supports Classes 2-5 with a variety of body styles, including cab chassis, cutaway, step van, and cargo van configurations.
VIA claims to be much more than just an EV manufacturer.
“We’re not just a truck manufacturer or your typical OEM,” Purcell said. “We’re enablers for the cities of tomorrow. We want to help companies realize their visions for efficient, sustainable delivery that benefits everyone.”
Additionally, VIA Motors is in a pending transaction with Ideanomics, a global group with a simple mission, to accelerate commercial adoption of electric vehicles.
Once it becomes part of Ideanomics, VIA can offer a total package that makes it easy for fleets to transition to electric drive — vehicles, charging infrastructure, and financing.
Work Truck had the opportunity to sit down with Purcell and Senior Director of Sales, Frank Jenkins, about current trends and challenges with fleet electrification, what’s happening with VIA Motors right now, and what the hopes for the future include.
Both gentlemen have abundant experience in both fleet and vehicle electrification and are bringing their expertise to VIA Motors.
Checking in with VIA Motors
Check out these excerpts from Work Truck's interview with Purcell and Jenkins:
Work Truck: What’s new and big with VIA Motors right now?
PURCELL: We are a skateboard-based company, and I believe we have developed the best commercial skateboard in the industry, particularly for medium-duty vehicles. We designed our skateboard from the ground up to be used for commercial applications.
The value of a skateboard lies in the common chassis and drive system. Different sizes span the range of vehicles, but they all feature common architecture. You can take this skateboard and put whichever body style you need on it.
This common architecture gives us a lot of flexibility to create the vehicle that fleets really need. We invest a lot of time with our customers understanding their real needs, from cargo capacity to payload and range requirements. Fleets can be confident that their vehicle will provide the service they require. We will offer fleets one-stop shopping.
We also offer very low-load floor designs, with only a 21-inch load height. This provides far more cargo carrying capacity on a smaller, nimbler platform.
With our flat load floor, we can also move the driver position forward, which also frees up even more cargo capacity. This is important for delivery fleets right now, as they make more money delivering more packages.
JENKINS: I’m also really impressed with the effort our engineering teams put in. The validation process is as robust as at a major OEM. We are well on our way to launching products that meet multiple applications and duty cycles.
Our vehicles are unique because we will offer all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive and everything needed for Class 2-5, including the last-mile delivery segment.
I’m excited about our flexibility in terms of products to solve customer needs.
PURCELL: Additionally, with Ideanomics’ end-to-end fleet electrification offering, it is about the vehicles, the charging infrastructure, and the financial solutions. We can bring a total package to fleet operations. This makes it easier for fleets to make that jump to electric.
The last time the industry seriously considered new propulsion at this scale was at the turn of the 20th century. This is exciting!
Work Truck: What are some of the top challenges related to fleet electrification that work truck fleets are experiencing today?
PURCELL: One of the major challenges is charging. And we believe we can help address this challenge with our partnership with Ideanomics. Being able to offer both the vehicle and the charging infrastructure together as a package is a real advantage.
Ideanomics has a few companies in its portfolio specific to conductive and inductive charging. They are working to help fleets understand their best options for installing charging infrastructure.
By understanding how a fleet operates, when they charge vehicles, and how often, a fleet can look at downsizing batteries or other solutions to continue to decrease costs.
We can offer an optimized modeling package to help fleets make smart decisions about fleet electrification.
An additional challenge is related to managing an electrified fleet. From routing challenges and duty cycles, we are working to help educate fleets on how best to utilize these electric vehicles in the most optimized way.
Work Truck: What are some of the current top benefits of fleet electrification?
PURCELL: One of the biggest performance factors is uptime. If vehicles are not operating and delivering goods and services, it is not making money for the fleet. We believe service and repair are a big part of the challenge.
Having fitted service diagnostics allows fleets to get to the root of a problem, understanding what exactly went wrong. This allows fleets to fix the real problem rather than simply focusing on the symptoms. This means we need to have depth in our software control.
We will offer embedded diagnostics that can alert the fleet that something needs to be done before the vehicle goes out of service. This technology helps fleets prevent downtime and more severe service and maintenance needs.
JENKINS: There are several benefits that we can see. First, there is the general reduction of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. There are many regulations convincing folks they need to look at their CO2 footprint.
But, if you really look at the return on investment (ROI) because of reduced fuel and maintenance costs, it makes sense.
When businesses must look at the bottom line, electrification makes sense from a financial perspective. I’ve done a lot of modeling with several different fleets. Some programs can help look at the ROI and what the price difference really means. Right now, I’m seeing a two-year payback with tax credits.
In the long run, there are significant savings in going electric. It really makes good business sense.
PURCELL: Electric vehicles do not have the same maintenance requirements that an engine with lubricants does. Additionally, another major benefit is related to braking. With regenerative braking, the motor is used as a generator to help slow down the vehicle instead of using friction brakes.
There is also the operator perspective. Fleets are experiencing a major challenge in attracting qualified operators. As part of our voice-of-the-customer process, we have designed our interior with ergonomics in mind, and its quiet operation appeals to drivers. We’ve received feedback that the driver’s recognize that our EVs are designed with the drivers in mind, with a low step-in height which makes it easier for drivers to enter and exit the vehicle.
This driver-centric design will help fleets retain their drivers and our large cargo space also allows more packages to be loaded and delivered in one run.
Work Truck: What is the future looking like for VIA Motors?
JENKINS: I think we are in the right spot at the right time. When you look at the medium-duty, Class 2-5 market today, start-ups have a significant opportunity. This is the key market that will make the biggest difference in CO2 emission reduction.
Add to it the talent we have on board and the quality of product we are building; the future is very bright for VIA Motors.
PURCELL: Electrification offers huge potential. You can see this from some of the early movers out there. Many other companies are announcing their purchases. It’s a useful solution, and it makes economic sense.
VIA Motors delivers. We are a solution provider for sustainable mobility. We are on target to deliver reliable work trucks with an attractive total cost of ownership.
Want more? Check out this documentary with VIA Motors CEO that discussed the state of the fleet industry and role electric commercial vehicles play.