VIVA VIA

Imagine taking a pickup truck or van that gets 15 miles per gallon and transforming it into a plug-in hybrid that can attain up to 100 miles per gallon in typical daily driving.

That’s what Via Motors of Orem, Utah has officially been doing for over a year.

Founded in 2010, the company spent five years in development and testing, and in January of 2015 announced the production launch of brand new “up-fitted” 4WD Chevy Silverado and Chevy Express cargo and passenger vans under the VTRUX brand name. The vehicles are produced in Mexico, near a GM manufacturing plant in Silao. GM builds stock trucks and vans and ships them to Via. Via then “decontents” the stock vehicles (removing the transmission, starter and flywheel) and installs their proprietary V-DRIVE™ power train. While V-DRIVE™ could eventually be found in other manufacturer’s vehicles, it’s no coincidence that Chevy’s are the cornerstone of Via’s initial offering. The company’s founders include former GM executives and engineers.

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In fact, former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz joined Via in 2011 as Chairman. Lutz, who considers the Chevy Volt to be one of the most important cars he’s ever worked on, wowed Jay Leno in a 2012 episode of Leno’s Garage with a test drive in prototype VTRUX. Not surprisingly, Leno – who owns a Chevy Volt – described the VTRUX as “more or less a truck version of the Chevy Volt.” That’s because, like a Volt, the VTRUX operates initially on battery electricity alone. For the first 40 or so miles of driving, a Via VTRUX is all-electric and emissions-free. When the batteries are depleted, the V6 gas engine acts as a generator, recharging the batteries and extending the range up to 350 miles (and then, of course, all you have to do is add more gasoline). Using the engine as a generator (“range extender”) instead of powering the drive train allows it to run at optimal speed for the greatest fuel efficiency – significantly better than a gasoline-powered model.

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Because the electric drive motor produces immediate torque, performance is said to be on par with a V8-equipped vehicle. But unlike a V8, the V-DRIVE™ delivers dramatic fuel efficiency: from 30 – 100 mpg depending upon driving conditions and how many miles are driven. In some situations, no fuel may be needed at all. Remember, this is a PLUG-IN hybrid, and the batteries are typically charged overnight by plugging the vehicle into a standard 120V outlet, or achieving more rapid charging with 240V. Since 75% of drivers average less than 40 miles of driving a day, it’s possible that fuel bills could be reduced to almost nothing (in that same episode of Leno’s Garage, Leno commented that in 18,000 miles of driving his Chevy Volt he had used only 12 gallons of gas).

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However, a Chevy Volt isn’t built for job sites. A VTRUX is.

And that’s where its ability to export electrical energy really comes in handy.

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The vehicle is able to supply 240V power through its power export module option (120V with the additional splitter). This provides 14.4 kW at 60 amps – enough to power your house during an emergency or a remote job site without power. Cell phone tower backup generator not working? Hook up the VTRUX (this actually happened). The company has plans for a utility grade output module that will provide 50 kW of mobile emergency power to keep critical facilities online. If you haven’t guessed it by now, Via vehicles aren’t available to consumers, but are intended for fleet use where total cost of operation is more important than the initial cost of the vehicle. When you see the price, you’ll understand that strategy. A 4WD Crew Cab 1500 WT starts at $92,775, and 2WD Cargo Van 2500 WT at $86,345.

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Electrification of work vehicles has such obvious advantages, a famous American inventor predicted that they would be the wave of the future. It may have taken more than 100 years, but that future appears to be finally taking shape.

“I believe that ultimately the electric motor will be universally used for trucking in all large cities, and that the electric automobile will be the family carriage of the future. All trucking must come to electricity.”
– Thomas Edison

All photos courtesy of Via Motors.

links Written by Darrell Williams.

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