SALT LAKE CITY — It makes sense that the state's largest power company should be the first to adopt electric vehicles into its fleet.
Rocky Mountain Power is testing an extended range electric vehicle to determine if the technology will save on fuel costs and benefit its bottom line. The utility is partnering with Orem-based VIA Motors, and will use two eREV pickups for four months to evaluate their performance, including emissions, fuel economy and durability.
“We’re excited to take this truck on an extended test drive, kick the tires if you will,” said Rocky Mountain Power President and CEO Richard Walje. "We do a lot of work out in the field … we'll load them up with lots of equipment, tow things with them and validate they will actually work for us as a replacement for the fleet we have."
Speaking Wednesday at a news conference at the state Capitol, Walje said the company currently has more than 1,000 heavy-duty vehicles in its maintenance fleet covering six states. While it is too soon to know how effective the new electric trucks will be, he said he is optimistic that they could become the vehicle of choice for the utility and eventually the public.
The VIA Plug-in 402 horsepower electric truck is designed to travel 40 miles on a full charge from the vehicle's lithium ion batteries. When the batteries run down, the truck's on-board gasoline/electric generator kicks on to recharge the battery.
"This is the initial introduction to commercial application," VIA Motors president Alan Perriton said. “Our partnership with Rocky Mountain Power, and the (debut) of the world’s first extended-range electric work trucks in their fleet, marks a turning point in the electrification industry.”
According to Perriton, the vehicle runs completely on electricity, while the gas-powered generator is used only to replenish the battery — allowing the truck to achieve the equivalent of an estimated 100 miles per gallon.
He went on to say that someday electric motors in fleet vehicles may not only supply power to the vehicle, but could also power an entire neighborhood while crews work to restore electricity following an outage, becoming "a sort of traveling power station."
The vehicle works similarly to the way a Chevy Volt is powered. In fact, former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz recently joined the board of directors at VIA Motors. Lutz is considered the father of the Volt and a proponent of the development of long-range electric-powered vehicles.
Perriton said the VIA eREV can be fully charged in about four hours using a 240-volt outlet, while using a standard 110-volt household outlet would take about 11 hours.
The company's focus is on commercial applications, but VIA is also working to develop a sport utility vehicle for everyday use that could be on the road within two years, he said.
"By that time, we will have been able to bring the price of the vehicle down because component costs and battery prices will drop," he said. "Given volume and enough improvements in technology and research, those costs will come down dramatically."