Bob Purcell: from the EV1 to the VIA Skateboard Chassis

By Gary S. Vasilash

Bob Purcell has been in the EV space for a number of years. In the early 1990s when General Motors was developing the EV1 Purcell was involved. He was to become the head of the then-newly formed Advanced Technology Vehicles Division at the company. After nearly 17 years at GM Purcell left the corporation and worked at companies involved in batteries and electric propulsion systems.

Purcell is now the CEO of VIA Motors, which is a producer of an electric skateboard chassis for application in Class 2 through Class 5 cargo vans, trucks and buses.

The skateboard chassis allows an array of upfitting opportunities. (Image: VIA Motors)

Although he had his start with a passenger car (the EV1), Purcell is convinced that commercial vehicles are the ideal place for electric propulsion.

As he explains on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” this is because the total cost of ownership of an electric truck is less than that of one with a thermal engine, thanks to things like reduced maintenance requirements. In addition to which, he says there is a 4:1 per mile cost benefit (electricity vs. liquid fuel). All things that add up to improvements to the bottom line of commercial carriers.

(While personal vehicle owners can also experience the same advantages, it isn’t often—if ever—that you hear the buyer of a new EV say, “I got this because the life-cycle costs are a distinct advantage.”)

Purcell talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights, and me on the show.

Beyond his discussion of what they’re doing at VIA, Purcell shares plenty of insights on both his career as well as the overall EV landscape. The man is clearly an EV proponent, but unlike many boosters of the tech, Purcell has a deep base of knowledge in the space, which makes him far more credible than the average EV enthusiast.

And you can see the show here.

Robotaxis: Will They Take the Long Way?

Maybe in seven or so years we’ll have the answer

Robotaxis are what companies from Cruise to Zoox are assiduously working on, the mode of transport that will take the driver out of the equation.

According to market intelligence firm Guidehouse Insights, which has released a report titled Robotaxi Services Overview, this is why: “Removing drivers from ride-hailing operations is widely seen as an opportunity for the industry to reduce operating costs and ensure profitability.”

However, the firm also notes, “major players including Waymo, DiDi, Cruise and Uber have placed multibillion-dollar bets on developing automated driving technology and piloting robotaxi services.”

Seems like it is going to take a whole lot of rides to make an ROI of “multibillion-dollar” investments.

One of the assessments made by Guidehouse Insights is that more than 90% of all passenger miles traveled by robotaxis between 2020 and 2030 will occur in China, North America and Europe.

One thing: According to Sagie Evbenata, sensor research analyst with the firm, “Few commercial deployments are likely to be seen until 2028-2029, but this is likely to be followed by a period of extreme growth where robotaxis mainly replace human-driven ride-hailing services.”

So, no, you’ve not missed much in 2021.