VL Automotive which takes the body and frame of a Fisker vehicle and adds substantial power by adding a Corvette engine to it. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Detroit— They don’t have the floor space the Big 3 and their Asian and European competitors do at the auto show, but a couple of smaller automakers outside of the main hall also made heads turn Monday.
Many of the more than 100,000 people who showed up each of the first two days of the North American International Auto Show were greeted by three hulking vehicles that occupied two stands in Cobo Center for Utah-based VIA Motors, a manufacturer and developer of electrified trucks, SUVs and full-size vans.
Through a partnership with General Motors, VIA removes the transmissions, starters and alternators from Chevrolet Silverados, Suburbans and Express Vans and replaces them with the same technology in a Chevy Volt.
“People are like, ‘awesome, it’s about time to put this technology in large vehicles that use a lot of gas, instead of only in the smaller vehicles,’ ” said Diana MacArthur, VIA Motors’ director of dealer networks.
VIA hopes to overcome a longstanding concern that electrifying larger vehicles results in lost acceleration, torque and towing capacity, MacArthur said.
The move toward electrifying trucks and SUVs could dramatically shrink the carbon blueprint for these traditional gas guzzlers. For example, a crew cab pickup on display in Cobo’s basement advertises it can get up to 100 mpg. An optional solar panel lid for the flat bed adds an additional hour of battery life for every hour it sits under the sun, MacArthur said.
VIA Motors, founded in 2008, has made the rounds at auto shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and early this month made headlines when the privately held company announced it won business worth $80 million from Sun Country Highway, which wants to offer electric vehicles and charging stations to hotels.
VIA vehicles are scheduled to go on sale in 2015.
Fred Wagar, 60, and his son took notice of the bulky green vehicles Monday.
“I’m just curious about the drive train, it must have some big batteries,” said Wagar of Carleton. “It’s interesting to see how (electric vehicles) are coming along.”
Another head-turner in the lobby, VL Automotive, also pays homage to Motor City craftsmanship, this time by adding style and power to the heart of a Chevrolet Corvette.
Advertised as a car “with a luxurious body style and the heart of an American sports car,” VL’s Destino Concept is geared toward the Lamborghini and Ferrari super car enthusiasts, said Gabriel Villarreal, the son of one of the owners, Gilbert Villarreal.
“This is a $200,000 vehicle and right now there is an order for 25,” Villarreal said, speaking of the exclusivity of the vehicle.
The Auburn Hills company based its Destino Concept on a Fisker Karma but smoothed out the front and rear and features the engine and drive train of a Corvette ZR1.
Sexy super cars are not the only luxuries to be made by VL. Similar to watch and bicycle maker Shinola, which builds its products in Detroit, VL also makes fine watches.
“We like the idea of bringing more work to Michigan,” Villarreal said.
The GM connection for new automakers perhaps has something to do with their links to Bob Lutz, former GM Vice Chairman, who sits on the board of directors for VIA and is the co-founder who put the L in VL Automotive.