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Bob Lutz is chairman of VIA Motors, which manufactures the Vtrux electrified pickups.
Bob Lutz is chairman of VIA Motors, which manufactures the Vtrux electrified pickups.

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The X Truck factor at the Detroit auto show Add to ...

Bob Lutz will once again unveil plug-in vehicles at the Detroit auto show, which fires up next week.

The former GM vice-chairman will be revealing an 800-horsepower plug-in pickup called the X Truck, as well as a converted plug-in luxury SUV, both of which are based on current GM full-size trucks, but modified by Utah-based company VIA Motors.

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In a preview video on the firm’s website, Lutz says the X Truck will not only offer more horsepower than any current Lamborghini or road-going Ferrari, but the utility of “a full-size pickup with the torque of a monster truck – with fuel economy that makes the Prius look like a gas guzzler.”

Lutz has retired from GM, but his current role as the chairman of VIA Motors and its line of Vtrux vehicles means he’s still championing plug-in vehicles, as he did for the last few years of his tenure at GM, especially the high-profile Volt. The SUV promises to use similar range-extension technology as the Volt; Lutz suggests it is set to provide the comfort of a luxury SUV, but can average more than 100 mpg equivalent (or 2.35 Le/100 km).

The company buys full-size GM vehicles directly, ditches the transmission and related components, and then adds high-output lithium-ion batteries to the drivetrain. On current Vtrux pickups, the trucks can travel up to 40 miles (64 kilometres on a full charge, the company says, thanks to their 24 kWh batteries, which can also power tools and act as a mobile plug-in point on site for tools or equipment.

The big hitch is that the trucks cost about $80,000, or about double what a fully loaded gas pickup on its own would cost. A cost calculator on the viamotors.com website suggests that the overall cost of ownership for a regular pickup would be higher versus a Vtrux plug-in after eight years of fuel savings, including various U.S. state and federal incentives. No word yet what the X Truck or the luxury SUV plug-in would cost, but it’s a safe bet that it won’t be less than their current pickup.

In Canada, these plug-in trucks will be distributed by Sun Country Highway in 2013, the same Saskatchewan-based company that installed 240-volt charging stations across the country in advance of a six-week electric drive across the country in a Tesla Roadster. The company has just released a map of all these EVSEs on its website at suncountryhighway.ca; the stations are free for any plug-in vehicle driver to use.

Car-share companies offer deals

Canadian car sharing company AutoShare is offering free test drives of the Nissan Leaf for AutoShare users in Toronto, as well as those that sign up at a 75 per cent discounted rate (from $129 to $29), courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund.

At the same time, Massachusetts-based Zipcar announced recently that it is test piloting a new program in Vancouver and Toronto that eliminates the annual membership fee to use its vehicles on work days.

The AutoShare Green Traveller program is meant to encourage car-sharing drivers to experience driving behind the wheel of a zero emissions vehicle, which the WWF promotes as key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from city traffic. It allows those who sign up before the end of January not only the WWF-subsidized sign-up rate, but a free Leaf rental of up to 12 hours long, which can be taken at any point before the end of March. Details are at autoshare.com.

From Autoshare’s perspective, it also helps members avoid some of the trepidation that goes along with sampling new and unfamiliar technology, said Kevin McLaughlin, founder and president of AutoShare.

“When we first got Priuses in 2005, they didn’t do well: people avoided them, there’s a funny little gear shift, there was a push button ignition they had never seen, so they’d call us frustrated, and wanting to switch cars,” he said, though now the Prius is amongst the most popular. “Right now we’re experiencing similar things with EVs, with range anxiety the number one issue for them.”

But once members become familiar with the controls, McLaughlin estimates that the Leaf provides plenty of range for 80 per cent of AutoShare users. Though the company offers an EV tutorial on how to plug the car in, most users don’t bother with refuelling the cars before they’re returned, just like with its gas cars. All AutoShare cars cost the same to rent out, he said, between $7.25-$10.25 an hour, depending on plan and group discounts.

New C7 Corvette details leaking out

Though GM has done an effective job at minimizing unauthorized leaks of its highly anticipated new-generation Chevrolet Corvette, details are emerging about the C7 that will officially see the light of day next week during media days for the Detroit auto show.

GM has revealed minimal information about the car. It will feature a 6.2-litre V-8 that makes 450 hp and a similar amount of torque. The C7 (seventh-generation Corvette) will be able to accelerate from 0-96 km/h in less than four seconds, while offering the most fuel-efficient engine yet in Chevrolet’s top sports car.

Anticipation for this car is at a rarely-seen level: A series of C7 teaser videos have racked up more than a million views on YouTube in the past two months, while a video game version of a covered, camouflaged C7 was available for download with the Gran Turismo 5 racing game late last year.

These glimpses into the next Corvette suggest that its body proportions will remain similar, a long and wide hood dwarfing a stubby rear end and greenhouse. Quality will be upgraded in the cabin, which is easily the current Corvette’s most common criticism, one video showing plush leather with French stitching on the seats and dash.

Detroit to feature key truck debuts

The Detroit show sizzle will be the hot cars and concepts, but the steak that actually helps fund such fun and futuristic vehicles will be the mainstream trucks and SUVs that will also debut next week.

The most high profile of these are GM’s full-size pickup twins, the 2014 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado, which combined count amongst the best-selling vehicles in North America, even if they fall short of Ford’s F-150 recent sales numbers. Both will offer engines that can run on four cylinders to save fuel.

Acura will show off a “prototype” version of its new MDX luxury SUV, which likely means a lightly jazzed-up production vehicle, going by the brand’s recent history with the RLX.

Lincoln will show its MKC crossover, based on the Ford Escape, The Detroit News reported recently, and there will be a new, three-row SUV from Volkswagen based on the Passat’s platform.

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