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.
The bed of a full-size pickup offers a good bit of surface area to soak up the sun, and the ability to run power tools from the VTrux power outlet, perhaps at remote construction sites, makes any additional source of energy welcome. And of course, a tonneau, which improves fuel economy in any case by reducing wind resistance, doesn’t need to be as sturdy as the roof of a vehicle does.
Via’s Jeffrey Esfeld told reporters at this week’s LA Auto Show that the industrial-grade solar panels on the rigid, hinged bed cover can handle “a fair amount of abuse.” The new solar tonneau comes in 400- and 800-watt versions, which VIA says can add up to six and ten miles of range, respectively.
VIA hasn’t yet released a price for the solar tonneau. It’s now taking orders for the Vtrux pickup, starting at $79,000.