Via Motors VTrux Gets Solar Tonneau Option, But So Many Questions…


Via Motors is is getting a lot of attention for its pioneering plans to bring a “mass market” electric truck to the show — VTrux. Now it’s getting even more attention for offering a solar tonneau to go with the VTrux. The truck may do very well. I’m not so sure about the solar tonneau, but maybe I’m being too narrow-minded.

First of all, it is worth noting that the VTrux is one mightily priced truck, but it has a very specific focus within a decent market. The truck will reportedly have a starting price of $79,000, without the solar tonneau, which is far more than the $26,000 Silverado it is based off of, but for the purposes it serves, that $50,000 can really be made up from the benefits of being a plug-in electric vehicle. One commenter on AutoblogGreen notes, “I’ve penciled out a guestimate that for every 100,000 miles you can save about $16,000 in fuel costs as compared to a typical truck. You’ll never come close to recouping the not just the $53,000 premium but also the cost of financing that purchase. If a customer has the conviction to save fuel and the money to spend, but they occasionally need a truck they can buy both a Silverado and a Volt for less money. If a customer needs to use a truck daily, and put on high miles, they probably do a lot of highway driving, and might be even more efficient with a diesel.” [sic] Sounded rather convincing to me, not being a truck guy and not being very well-informed regarding Via Motors’ customers, but then I read the responses to that:

  • “Your equation is too simple. Most work trucks spend time working. You gotta figure in the time savings for electrical fill up vs gas. When it comes to being an electric generator for the worksite. Most of the time people will buy a silverado then spend another 5-10k on it converting it for site generator use which upgrades the cooling, the alternator, and fan systems. Then, now take the equation of adding gas to that and all those 15-20 minute fill ups. If you can pretty much keep it on site most of the time without filling it up now you’ve got a generator now that charges itself.

    “From the standpoint of being a worktruck stand alone power generator this is actually not to bad.” [sic]

  • “VIA Motors focuses on fleet sales like Pacific Gas & Electric, Coca Cola, Verizon, Best Western, etc… They have a cool calculator here. The more you drive, the quicker the vehicles pay for themselves.

I’ve seen a lot of interest in the VTrux from commenters. While a good bit of that comes from simple truck lovers who wouldn’t dish out $79,000 for the vehicle, there are clearly a number of people who have a genuine use for an electric pickup like this, and who would financially benefit from one costing even three times that of its gasoline-powered cousin.

But getting back to the solar tonneau, the idea reminds me of the many stories or comments promoting cars with solar panels on them. Sounds great for a moment, but then you realize the risks associated with placing your high-value solar panels on a moving vehicle as well as the time in the shade that would reduce production of electricity. And the obvious kicks in — wouldn’t it make more sense to simply have stationary solar panels installed at your location and then charge up with the electricity they generate?

However, as already noted, Via Motors’ VTrux buyers aren’t typical consumers using the truck for “average Joe” purposes. These are being sold to fleets as genuine work trucks. In some cases, the truck may need to move from far-out-there location to location and benefit from a portable solar power unit. Heck, maybe Via Motors even produced the supplement based on customer demand. Or perhaps it did jump the gun with a “cool concept” that goes a bit beyond practical.

Don’t get me wrong and paint me a solar hater — I founded the site I just think that solar is normally best placed in a good, fixed locations, not attached to moving vehicles. But maybe I’m wrong in this case. From AutoblogGreen:

Jeffrey Esfeld, Via’s director of national fleet sales and business development, told AutoblogGreen that the the idea is to use all the real estate available over the truck bed to increase the vehicle’s efficiency. The industrial-grade solar panels will take a “fair amount” of abuse, Esfeld said. The new solar tonneau will be available in two versions, 800- and 400-watts, that will both help power the car’s battery or, if used at a work site, any power tools running off of the truck’s outboard power outlet. If you park the truck in the sun all day, the solar panels can add up to six (in the 400-watt model) and ten (800) miles of range to the battery pack. That’s why the company’s slogan is “an electric truck that doesn’t need a plug.”

One thought on “Via Motors VTrux Gets Solar Tonneau Option, But So Many Questions…

  1. The math comparing the standard truck to the Via Motors truck is very typical, error based math.

    The $16,000 saved in gas brings the price of the Via down to $63,000. What is overlooked here is that $16,000 must be added to the price of the standard truck. That truck now costs $42,000.

    Now we are talking about a difference of $21,000. Cost of a generator added to the base truck + labor. Now you are talking about a difference of perhaps $15,000. Probably a lot less of a difference considering that the generator in the Via can power an entire home in the case of a power outage. Not your standard generator.

    As pointed out, time spent in gas lines. Just drive an EV for 1 week and you will hate gas stations. Time is money when you are in a work truck in a gas line.

    But remember, 100,000 miles on a real work truck is not much. Within it’s lifetime, it will save money. And this is based on the price of the first round of sales. Prices will fall. The cost of L.I. batteries for EV’s has dropped 40% in the past 2 years

    Now let’s talk maintenance costs. Brakes on an EV last 4 to 5 times longer than a gas powered car’s brakes. This is due to regenerative braking.

    Maintenance on an electric motor with only one moving part is nil. There is no transmission to speak of in these trucks.

    I have driven my Chevy Volt for 15,000 miles and my oil still has 93% life left. The technicians tell me I should change it at 40%. This means I may never have to change my oil.

    Time is money. How much money will the Via save because it is not in the shop having brakes replaced and oil changed, or at least needing only $15-20% of the maintenance the ICE truck needs. So, parts, labor and time spent away from the job site must be factored. So, now we are talking about real savings.

    This is a work truck … not a go to work truck. The road is full of base trucks that have been converted to work trucks at a hefty cost. None of them give back like the Via.

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