Every year, flashy sports cars and futuristic concepts are like the hares of the North American International Auto Show: they grab all of the attention. But don’t count out the tortoises — the workhorse vans and trucks that field service companies rely on. Here’s a quick rundown of what this year’s confab, ending Sunday, revealed about the fleets of tomorrow:
Utah Startup Unveils a Solar Truck
Ever heard of Utah-based Via Motors? You’re not the only one. But this startup, run by former General Motors executive Bob Lutz, is actually onto something cool: it basically takes GM vehicles, guts them, and converts them into plug-in hybrids. For field service operators whose fleets stick to low-mileage city driving, the idea is promising.
At the auto show, the company displayed its VTRUX model, an Escalade Class-S SUV converted into a gas-electric hybrid but with optional solar panels (priced at $2,000-$3,000 apiece) in the bed. It “comes in two models, averages about 100 miles per gallon, has four-wheel drive and can drive approximately the first 40 miles in all-electric model,” according to the International Business Times. The solar panels, which lift up so techs can use the bed space, promise to provide enough battery juice to go an extra 10 miles.
Read more at the International Business Times and National Geographic
2015 Ford Transit: Out with the Old
Ford is replacing its iconic E-Series commercial van line with the smaller, more fuel-efficient Transit model. Long a favorite among European commercial fleets, the 2015 Transit can carry 300 more pounds than the E-Series, while consuming 25 percent less fuel, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The automaker hired 1,000 employees to handle production at its Kansas City plant, where the Transit will enter production later this year. The 2015 Ford Transit will be available to U.S. customers this summer.
Read more at the Detroit Free Press and MotorTrend
Nissan Tests an All-Electric Van
Meanwhile, at the Washington Auto Show, which kicked off this week in the nation’s capital, Nissan made a splash by announcing a partnership with FedEx. The plan is for FedEx to test how Nissan’s e-NV200 van stands up “under East Coast traffic patterns and geography,” The Washington Post reports. This will be the all-electric, e-NV200’s first foray into the United States, though Nissan and FedEx have previously tested the concept overseas.
It’s still early days for electric fleets in the U.S., but Nissan hopes to learn about the e-NV200’s viability before it goes into production later this year in Europe.
Read more at The Washington Post
Ford Swaps Steel for Aluminum in F-150
Far and away one of the biggest announcements in Detroit this year was Ford’s imminent F-150 makeover. The changes, however, to the best-selling truck for more than three decades aren’t so much cosmetic as they are skeletal. The auto giant is moving away from steel for its 2015 F-150, which will feature a body made almost entirely of aluminum. The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Phelan writes, “In addition to a frame 50% made of high-strength steel, the light, strong body helps the F-150 shed up to 700 pounds of curb weight to reduce fuel consumption and boost towing capacity and payload.”
Aluminum is costlier, but Ford insists the new F-150 will be competitively priced. If the F-150 is to retain its “best-selling” mantle, fleet managers will have to decide that the tradeoff between durability and increased performance is worth the cost.
Read more at the Detroit Free Press