As VIA Motors prepares to begin production of its converted series hybrid pickups, vans and eventually SUVs utilizing GM chassis and engines, it has also introduced a solar panel to sweeten the potential value proposition.
At this stage, two different pre-production configurations take the place of a traditional tonneou cover and could provide as much as 25-percent extra electric range from the sun’s energy.
VIA has already demonstrated their toughness by whacking them with a rubber mallet and driving over them with a pickup without failure, and if they do somehow get damaged, they are repairable, said David West, VIA’s chief marketing officer in an interview today.
“The VIA solar bed cover or “tonneau top” called SolTRUX opens and closes similarly to a conventional tonneau top and has pneumatic pistons for counter balance and easy access like a traditional tonneau top,” said West, adding they’d be dealer installed. “We are also designing a quick release system and hoist accessory to make it easy to remove the tonneau top and store at home when the “open bed” is needed for cargo.”
However, contrary to any reports stating what “will” be available, West told us plans are to offer a couple configurations of its SolTRUX canopies for its pickup but specs and prices are not finalized.
VIA’s solution to cover a full-sized pickup bed does appear to be more elegant even than a bent solar roof fixture, and these large area panels are the same type of photovoltaic cells as would be used on a building, said West.
The start-up company is still testing its panels it developed in-house in Salt Lake City, and West observed solar panels are continually getting better, but VIA is encouraged with what it has already.
Aimed at commercial and consumer buyers, maximum energy return would assume a sunny day with the higher output 800-watt version West hopes to see priced somewhere under $3,000, A base level 600-watt model is hovering tentatively around $2,000 or so.
“We believe that both consumer and commercial truck owners will want the additional range and ‘plug-free’ charging option the panels provide for trucks where there may not be electric infrastructure,” said West.
These could be at places “such as a job site, camping, or even parked at an airport and returning after a trip to find your truck fully charged after several days, even when a charge station is not available.”
How does West figure 25 percent extra free driving range? VIA prototypes have demonstrated 40 miles electric range, and the high-capacity panels now being tested have delivered enough photovoltaic-derived electricity to provide five to 10 miles extra range per day.
In series hybrid mode also, the VIA trucks are still being tuned prior to production in Mexico estimated for mid-2014. These trucks are expected to operate their GM V6 EcoTec engines – which can drop to four-cylinder operation – at 25-40-percent better fuel efficiency than a base truck upon which they’re based.
It would appear they stand to beat anything else out there, including GM’s own highly engineered 2-mode hybrids trucks, many of which have been discontinued due to high cost, low sales.
In VIA’s (sink-or-swim) case, the economics all the way around are swimmingly compelling, said West.
And, he conceded, VIA cannot afford the luxury of playing green and introducing a pricey niche vehicle or compliance car (truck). No, he said these vehicles though priced somewhere around $79,000 have to pay for their extra expense, and this will be via energy savings, he said.
As for the solar panel, VIA is intent on proving this too will pay for itself – West estimated depending on usage and location, this could be in less than a couple of years in saved gas/energy costs.
Obviously payback would take longer for those in cloudy, less-ideal circumstances, and if a VIA truck owner parked the solar panel-equipped vehicle in the garage or under shade, it does little good there either.