VIA Motors unveils solar range-extending tonneau cover


November 19, 2013

VIA Motors claims its solar tonneau cover provides an extra 10 miles (16 km) of all-electric driving range (Photo: C.C. Weiss /

VIA Motors claims its solar tonneau cover provides an extra 10 miles (16 km) of all-electric driving range (Photo: C.C. Weiss /

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Although the production launch of his company's line of extended range electric pickup trucks and vans will likely be the focus of VIA Motors' Chairman Bob Lutz at the LA Auto Show later this week, one optional extra has already caught our eye. The company has also revealed a solar panel tonneau cover that will add an extra 10 miles (16 km) of range to its eREV40 electric pickup truck.

Lutz is formerly the Chairman of General Motors where he oversaw the development of the Volt before joining VIA Motors in 2011. He still retains a link to his former employer with VIA Motors sourcing basic vehicles from GM and pairing their combustion engines with an electric generator to form an extended range electric-drive (eREV) powertrain.

VIA Motors' vehicle lineup, which include pick up trucks, an SUV and a van, can drive for 40 miles (64 km) in all-electric mode before turning to the combustion engine for a total range of 400 miles (644 km) on a single tank.

The solar panel tonneau cover on display in LA is designed to fit over the rear bed of VIA Motors' extended cab truck and, according to VP of Sales, Mark Burdge, adds an additional 10 miles (16 km) to the vehicle's all-electric range. Burdge couldn't provide detailed specs of the tonneau cover, but said attaching it or removing it would be a two-person job.

At the moment, VIA Motors is only taking orders for its vehicles from fleet customers, but expects to begin retail sales by mid 2014. The solar tonneau cover will be available as a US$2,000 option.

Source: VIA Motors

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Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I want one. I always thought that a truck would be perfect to convert to electric. It's built to carry weight and you can fill the bed with batteries and then put a hard cover over them only loosing about 8" of bed hight. I wonder how long this truck would have to sit in the sun for a full charge.

The Hoff

Sweet, almost there! Now picture this: Take out the gas engine...useless, anyways. Put in a battery like the one in the Tesla S. Four wheel drive? You bet: One electric motor per wheel - easy to do, and easier to do super nice when electric.

Creep speeds, differential locks (software!), even opposite direction drive to turn at the spot...null problemo. Full torque at low speeds! Run just one wheel with clamp-on winch to help others? Easy with that setup. Probably still lighter vehicle weight than gas powered. It's quieter. It won't break. When I go hunting in one of these, I make less noise and there's next to no smell coming from me - ignoring the stink from my pants. Hello, deer!

I sneak a couple hours into the woods. I stay put, and after a week my battery is full again! Woo-hoo! I don't need gas! I'm hunting, no need to go shopping. I need nothing. Poor schmucks working their asses off to afford gas for their guzzlers. Not me! I'm not coming back, all summer long....see yaaaaaaa!!!


This talk of solar panels on vehicles has been around for some time, and because of energy density, cost and panel real estate, it hasn't really gone anywhere.

It dawned on me recently that back in the day before roads, our fore bearers would have used horses and carts, and it would have taken them a season or a year to traverse East to West .

If I had 4WD, or a camper with electric capabilities, out of fuel, and drained of batteries, I think I would be very happy to crawl along at 2-3 miles an hour on 1kw of solar energy. Then as the sun sets, set up camp and wait for the sun again. If you take it easy, there might even be enough spare capacity to run a small cooler or in-vehicle fan for that bit of luxury in the hot country.

I think people need to take things into perspective and not discourage this technology, because in some situations it can make quite a difference to quality of life.


If you make the truck as light as possible - all aluminum panels, no massive gas engine and transmission and use inboard (not in-wheel) motors which are high voltage permanent magnet AC - you might get the weight down to 1800 pounds or less. At that point you can add some lithium batteries that will bring the weight back up to about 2800 pounds.

With a vehicle that weight you could expect to use about 150 to 180 wattHours per mile to drive at slow speed - I.E. up to 30 mph. After 30, the energy required per mile will exceed 200 wattHours per mile especially with an unaerodynamically shaped truck.

The solar panel in the bed looks like it's 4ft by 6ft or so so that could produce 500watts optimally but probably close to 300watts. So given say 8 hours of sitting in the sun you'd have enough charge to drive about 300x8 / 180 = 13 miles (if you drive slowly). You couldn't use the panel output to drive the truck - 300watts is less than 1/2 a horsepower but that power could be used to power things like the AC, lights and electronics lightening the accessory load on the main battery pack used for propulsion. These are just ball-park numbers.


I want one. BeWalt nailed it. They should start marketing the 4x4 truck to the average consumer. Most guys probably see electric as being weaker due to the vehicles that usually use the tech. But the torque is instant, silent, and can be computerized to be even thoughout all wheels or shift power to where it needs to be. Add to that there is less pollution, less smell, less reliance on making trips to the gas/diesel station.

By the way, I live in the South, and I see hunters buying $20k and $30k side-by-side ATVs for hunting. It's a big deal here. If a vehicle like this was marketed to them and caught on, I could see people spending just a few extra thousand on their commuter truck that doubles as the perfect hunting truck, and looks good doing both.

Jay Lloyd

@Nairda - you nailed it on energy density, but I take issue with a complete lack of future planning here. Trying to reshape the current mistake of heavy, non-aero vehicles with the addition of batteries and low efficiency solar panel tonneau covers is token at best.

Instead of Bob Lutz, who is more interested in denying climate change, lining his own pockets and his investment banker tycoons and personal ego kudos... they should hire someone with the mentality of an Amory Lovins or William McDonough to design and lead their company.

These kind of vehicles should incorporate lightweight chassis and utilize an aerodynamic modus in the design. This in turn would require smaller motors, batteries and extended-range components. Not to mention enabling lighter wheels, tires, brakes, etc. Everything must be dialed down in order to really be efficient and futuristic. We 'can' do this now.

Where is the NanoSteel technology in this design ? I wonder...

The same email that led me to this article from Gizmag also points to an article on Spectrolab, who just reported a 38.8% cell efficiency on their latest multi-junction solar cell. Additionally, the Rocky Mountain institute designed a sustainability-aimed car with a ridiculously small number of parts that is completely recyclable. When you start adding these kinds of things together, then you begin to make real progress.

Imho, putting band-aids on heavy, innefficent Chevy trucks is an effort in futility and getting us nowhere. There are real opportunities to triple and quadruple efficiencies, if we stop, think six generations ahead, and distill all these technologies together. Lutz may have some association with the electric vehicle... but why in the world would anyone want a climate change denier to lead their company ? It's baffling to me...!

JD Howell

Why not build the PV panels into the body? Also, sell a large fold out PV panel for camping or parking all day. From the comments I am guessing a lot of us want energy independence.

Don Duncan

10 miles extra? Well whoop-de-do...

Maybe if they put it on something that doesn't look like a ginormous gas guzzler on steroids to begin with, it might actually make some difference.

Seriously, unless you work in construction (in which case you're going to need that pickup bed for other things than a fancy solar panel anyway), I don't see why anyone needs to drive around with a monstrocity like this. Putting a solar panel on it is just gilding the turd...


Practical way to get electric into mainstream- use existing stuff to get in to market easiest and fastest way. Doing it in a large consumer vehicle, and about 100 MPG! (Depending). Pure electric drivetrain - engine DOESN'T connect to wheels. More durable, less maintenance. Solar panels just trickle up charge instead of trickle down, for days not in use. Bring down the price please.

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