The first question the “average Joe” asks about an EV is often, “Why don’t they put a solar panel on it?” Leaving aside technical details about surface area, insolation, voltage levels and the requirements of vehicle design, the simple answer is that it wouldn’t produce enough energy to justify the cost. However, Via Motors’ VTRUX are aimed squarely at the commercial market, and the fleet operators who are buying them aren’t concerned with stylish looks or making an environmental statement, but only with demonstrable fuel savings. So if Bob Lutz tells us that the company’s new solar tonneau will pay for itself, we’d say it’s worth a look. Lutz himself introduced the solar-powered, plug-in electric truck at the LA Auto Show. Unlike smaller solar options that have only enough power to run a cooling fan, the truck’s bed cover has enough real estate for two high-capacity panels with up to 800 watts of total generating power - enough to significantly contribute to actual vehicle range, according to VIA. The company says that on long summer days the new bed cover option, called SolTrux, can provide up to 5-10 miles of additional electric range per day. This will potentially boost the plug-in electric range from 40 to 50 miles - with up to 400 miles of “extended range” in hybrid mode. The solar panel bed cover is designed to charge the traction batteries whenever sun is available, while driving or parked. If parked for long periods of time, like at an airport for several days, the truck can be fully charged upon return without a connection to the grid. The solar tonneau top opens and closes just like traditional bed covers, but will also come with an easy garage “hoist” option to remove and store the bed cover in just a few minutes. VIA hasn’t yet released an official price, but the company told Charged that it’s target is a retail price under $2,500 - which could mean an 18-24 month return on the solar investment. Not a bad fuel discount coupon, if you consider that up to 25% of your average daily fuel could be free for as long as you own your truck. In addition to saving money on fuel, the solar option can significantly reduce the carbon content of the electricity used.
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Photo courtesy of VIA Motors
Via Motors presents solar tonneau for its plug-in pickup
VIA’s standard extended-range electric trucks offer a combination of all-electric driving around town and hybrid modes for longer trips. The company claims that by combining the 40-mile battery electric range with up to 40% fuel savings in hybrid mode, the result is a “very real” 100 MPG for the average driver. The gas engine is used only to generate electricity, not unlike a diesel-electric train. VIA’s electric motor drives the truck’s 4WD system through a transfer case and maintains most all of the sophisticated technologies that come with the Chevy Silverado or Express van. The trucks and vans also come with 240 V and 120 V outlets with 15 kW of exportable power for tools or emergencies. VIA says that for fleets and home owners who have already installed solar panels, this truck is the perfect match. The company argues that with a plug-in electric truck in the garage, the value of the solar energy generated goes way up when it is used to displace the equivalent cost of gas or diesel. At the LA Auto Show, Lutz also announced the start of production for the plug-in trucks and vans. As a key part of its transition from the development phase to full-scale production, John Weber, former CEO of motor manufacturer Remy, has been chosen as VIA’s new CEO. Remy is a supplier to VIA, and the two companies have been working together under a joint development agreement since 2011. VIA plans to ramp up production on three electrified models in 2014, and is now taking orders for the VTRUX pickup, starting at $79,000.