Under the program known as VTRUX, VIA is taking full size trucks, vans and SUVs, and turning them into electric vehicles. The company, which boasts Bob Lutz as one of its board members, is taking a page from his playbook to create these juiced-up big boys. So, they were more than happy to let Lutz work his marketing wizardry as the company introduced an electrified version of the Chevrolet Silverado at the North American International Auto Show.
VIA Motors sandwiches an electric motor and lithium ion batteries into a truck frame. In this case, the range of their electric vehicles is 40 miles per charge. When the battery runs out an on-board generator (powered by a 4.3-liter V6 gas engine) kicks in to provide power for the electric motor. If this all seems familiar, just think about one of Lutz’s last big projects at GM, the Chevy Volt.
VIA says that their electric motor provides 402 hp at its peak. That is about the same as the 6.2-liter V8, which is the largest engine offered for the Silverado 1500 truck. Unfortunately the torque is not the same. The peak torque in this motor is 258 lb-ft. That’s about the same as in the 4.3-liter V6 found only in the base model Silverado work truck (WT).
The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) for the VIA truck is 7,000 lbs, which is 200 to 600 lbs more than various Silverado 1500 models. Unfortunately the added weight of the batteries and electrical systems means the VIA truck’s payload capacity drops to 1,000 lbs. That is 515 lbs less than a Silverado 1500 WT, and 915 lbs less than most other consumer versions of the Chevy pickup.
What do these stats mean in the real world?
The VTRUX is not a likely candidate to be the commercial vehicle that carries loads at a construction site. Still, it is easy to see this truck finding its niche in the service industry where real savings could be realized when the first few stops of the day are performed purely under battery power. Plus, the on-board 110/220 volt generator will be useful in the working world.
The individual consumer market my be a little tougher to crack. When trucks are purchased for personal transport, they are usually needed to haul around the toys. Considering this truck has a payload capacity that well undercuts even small trucks like the Ford Ranger, we suspect the consumer grade VTRUXs will not be ideal to haul a boat or make the big Home Depot runs.
Where VIA may be able to crack the consumer market is the SUVs. The company’s electrified Chevrolet Suburban can carry the family and is rated for the same 40-mile electric range. It is not hard to envision celebrities everywhere wanting to show their tree-hugging fans how green they are by arriving in the back of an electric Suburban. What VIA has to do is figure out how to use that momentum to convince that soccer moms and dads that this $80k (estimated) plug-in machine is reliable everyday transport.
So what’s the verdict?
VIA’s VTRUX program is starting with commercial vehicles, and wants to be in the consumer market by 2013. There are plenty of obstacles to offering an electric truck or SUV to the masses, but there are some clear benefits for the company that can get it right.
It is not time to start believing in VIA, but it is time to know the name.