Last month we wrote in this space about how AT&T was making a bid to green-ify its commercial fleet of work vans by purchasing over a thousand Chevy Express vans that had been converted to alternative-fuel vehicles.

Well, last week fellow telco goliath Verizon took a big step of its own toward eco-friendliness when it announced a new deal to start testing plug-in hybrid electric/gasoline trucks and cargo vans.

Initially, Verizon will test out two such vans, which are manufactured by Via Motors of Utah, and if all goes well, they’ll move forward with a larger purchase, reports the website Truckinginfo.

The three-quarter-ton vans are powered through a proprietary power train system called eREV, which Via installs in the body of a typical, 4.3-liter, V-6 G.M. G-2500 cargo van. According to several reports, the vans can travel up to 40 miles on a single charge from a 110-volt wall socket. But the vans also come with an on-board gas-powered generator that serves as a battery backup. Using that “range extender,” the vans can travel as much as 400 miles per day.

But that may not even be necessary — the average Verizon landline installer travels only 33 miles per day. Their current fleet gets an average of 11 miles per gallon right now. The Via electrified vans get over 100 mpg — which could lead to a 300 percent increase in vehicle efficiency, which, to say the least, sounds pretty good. Verizon has said it’ll explore using the on-board generators to power other electrical equipment they travel with, too.

The plan, which was announced during the National Truck Equipment Association show in Indianapolis, is part of Verizon’s plan to convert 15 percent of its commercial fleet to alternative fuels by 2015. According to a blog post on Verizon’s site written by James Gowen, Verizon’s chief sustainability officer, the company already has 2,500 alt-fuel vehicles on the road, comprising seven percent of its total fleet.

The company has 12,000 petroleum-powered cargo trucks in its fleet right now. But even if all goes well with the new electric vans, it’ll take a while to cycle out all the gas-guzzlers. They average about 9,200 miles a year, and on average, are kept in the rotation for about 13 years. So this is a long-term sort of plan.

Plus, the Via eREV vans aren’t cheap, with a retail price of $79,000. The company says, however, that the drastic and immediate savings in fuel costs still make them a good buy. According to Via, an overnight battery charge (the vans use a lithium-ion battery pack) costs about $1 a day in most states, and the vans are so efficient that they cost the equivalent of 50 cents per gallon of gas.

Fleet Owner‘s website quoted Via’s CEO, Kraig Higginson, as saying the vans could also be acquired through a monthly lease that was tied to fuel costs. The company is only selling the modified vans to commercial fleets for now — eventually it plans to sell directly to consumers.

It’s certainly an exciting development in fleet management. We’ll keep an eye on whether Verizon re-ups and starts electrifying more of its vans.

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.