Home » The Via VTRUX Is The Laughably Terrible Plug-In Hybrid Chevy Silverado You Forgot Existed

The Via VTRUX Is The Laughably Terrible Plug-In Hybrid Chevy Silverado You Forgot Existed

Via Vtrux 7 Ts
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If you’ve somehow escaped all of our takes, your favorite Autopian writers are big fans of plug-in hybrids, especially if they’re serial hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt or BMW i3. But not all PHEVs are built the same. Some are so disappointing you’re better off just leaving the hybrid part behind. There was a time when auto legend Bob Lutz saw a future in PHEVs so bright that he started a company to cater to an empty market of PHEV trucks. The Via Motors VTRUX was a series hybrid platform applied to Chevy Silverados, Suburbans, and Express vans. They were good in theory, but the VTRUX ended up being too expensive, too underwhelming, and not compelling enough.

The Via Motors VTRUX was slated to be an entry in our new Unholy Fails series. The VTRUX has all of the hallmarks of what could have been a Holy Grail, only to end up being less than the sum of its parts. This is a failure that isn’t even ten years old, yet I’m willing to bet some of our readers don’t know about it.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

This time around, I won’t be nominating the VTRUX as an Unholy Fail by myself, because the charismatic Robert Dunn of Aging Wheels did it for me. He got to test a Via Motors VTRUX and somehow, despite the truck having relatively low mileage and not being that old, it’s incapable of living up to its manufacturer’s promise:

Dunn gets right into the truck, so I will give you some backstory.

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The 100 MPG Hummer

Back in the late 2000s, the automotive industry was really getting into experimentation with ways to either electrify vehicles or build hyper-efficient vehicles. This was a time when the Toyota Prius was popular, but the first-generation Honda Insight was the mpg king. Volkswagen was also making strides in getting people to buy “clean diesel” cars. Remember the Elio? Yeah, that thing was originally a concept from the late 2000s, too!

Via Motors technically starts with Utah-based firm Raser Technologies. In the late 2000s, Raser was known for its geothermal plants, but it wanted to crack into the automotive industry. In 2009, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up to the 2009 SAE World Congress in Detroit in the so-called “100 MPG” Raser Electric Hummer H3. Yep, Raser claimed that you’d get 100 mpg in this SUV. However, it used fine print to clarify that said driving was limited miles around town.

Abandoned History The 2014 Via V (1)
Raser Technologies

The H3, which was built with help from supplier FEV, featured a 625-volt lithium battery, a 268 HP electric motor, and a four-cylinder GM Ecotec engine acting as a 134 HP generator for the EV system. Raser claimed anywhere between 40 miles of range on EV power alone. After which, the gas generator fired up. Well, as it turned out, the 100 mpg claim was only true if you never drove further than 60 miles. Then fuel economy sank to 33 mpg, which was still better than the base SUV, but not as headline-grabbing as the 100 mpg claim.

Raser then tried to buy the Hummer brand itself, but it failed to make a good enough bid to stop GM from killing the brand. Raser started shopping around for investors or anyone willing to give it enough money to put its series hybrid technology into mass production. In 2010, Via Motors became a new company spun off from Raser. In 2011, help arrived when Bob Lutz hung up his hat at GM and joined Via Motors, giving the new firm some credibility. This made sense because Bob Lutz was a huge supporter of the Chevy Volt, and now he had a chance to take that basic concept further.

The VTRUX

Via Vtrux 7
Via Motors

Via Motors would stay in the GM ecosystem. Only instead of working with Hummers, Via would convert GM’s large trucks, SUVs, and vans into series hybrid vehicles. The VTRUX was announced in 2011 and the concept was just like any other plug-in series hybrid.

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As Dunn explains, Via Motors purchased a few hundred to a few thousand or so half-ton Silverado with a 4.3-liter 297 HP and 330 lb-ft torque V6 engine. To facilitate the conversion to series hybrid, Via removed the transmission and in its place, fitted a 201 HP electric generator and a 254 HP and 306 lb-ft of torque electric motor. Behind those and bolted to the frame was a 24 kWh (22.5 kWh nominal) battery. Yes, the electric motor on this bad boy isn’t even as powerful as the gas engine charged with keeping the truck going. Via claimed a 9.7-second sprint to 60 mph and somehow the truck is even slower than claimed.

2014 Chevrolet Vtrux Silverado 1 (3)
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2014 Chevrolet Vtrux Silverado 1 (2)
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Here’s how it works. The gas engine acts as a gas generator, which drives the electric generator behind it. The electric generator then puts juice into the batteries and also provides power to plugs in the rear for 120V and 140V (max output 14.4kW) jobsite power. The electric motor, which lives where the transmission used to be, connects to the transfer case, which spins the driveshaft into the differential, finally reaching the wheels. If you think that’s inefficient, you’d be right, but the Via VTRUX weren’t so much proper PHEVs as they were converted trucks.

Via advertised a 7,500-pound GVWR and a payload rating of just 1,000 pounds. All of the heavy gear and the parts to make it work ate up the rest of the Silverado’s payload. Via also advertised a range of 40 miles of pure EV range and up to 400 miles of extended-range driving. Much like Raser did, Via used some fuzzy math to claim that the VTRUX got 120 mpg, so long as you didn’t drive farther than 60 miles in a day. If you drive 100 miles in a day, that fuzzy math landed at 30 mpg.

Via Vtrux 9
Via Motors
The 2014 Viatrux
Via Motors

And if you do need to go farther? As Dunn finds out, the engine may not be connected to the wheels, but it revs up and down randomly and weirdly. Fuel economy with the engine running is no better than the base truck without the hybrid bits. Thus, a VTRUX worked best if you kept trips short. Other VTRUX variations include a VTRUX Suburban and a VTRUX Express, but those are even rarer than these Silverados are.

Ten years and 47,000 miles after it was built, the VTRUX tested by Dunn got half of its advertised range. Dunn also notes that the battery system is incapable of putting out full power for very long. If you’re climbing a hill, the truck runs out of power until it almost can’t even hold speed.

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The conversion left some artifacts behind, too, such as the fact that the cruise control system’s buttons don’t work anymore, the truck’s original systems sometimes freak out and display error messages, and the gearchange buttons on the shift column do nothing. Granted, they wouldn’t do anything anyway since the transmission left the chat.

2014 Chevrolet Vtrux Silverado 1 (1)
Bring A Trailer Seller
2014 Chevrolet Vtrux Silverado 1
Bring A Trailer Seller

Via also modified the stock instrument cluster, but didn’t bother to try matching Chevy’s font. Overall, the VTRUX seemed like something better than a shed build, but not quite as good as a proper PHEV built by a real manufacturer. Oh, and if you want to know the exact state of charge, that’s too bad. The instrument cluster gets a vague gauge. If you want a more exact number, you have to pop the side hatch and turn on the jobsite power.

If none of this was bad enough, it was really hard for VTRUX owners to actually save money. Quoting an Idaho National Laboratory demonstration, Dunn points out that the trucks in the study drove on EV power only 17 percent of the time. Once the engine fired up, the trucks got a whopping 18 mpg.

It Costs How Much?

Screenshot (1010)
Screenshot: Robert Dunn – Aging Wheels

The worst part was the price. A 2014 Chevy Silverado WT 4WD Crew Cab was $38,050 ($51,003 today). Apply the VTRUX treatment and that same truck was now worth $76,100 ($102,006 today). Via Motors sold these trucks to fleets and it won’t surprise you that they didn’t catch on. The VTRUX was such a flop that Via Motors canceled the PHEV project and started working on pure EVs, which would also bear the VTRUX name.

I won’t spoil the rest, because the video is a hilarious watch. Watch Aging Wheels for more details on this catastrophe of a truck. Some people do like ’em, because you can still tow trailers and have that helpful electric power. Still, Via Motors produced a truck that was slower and heavier than the base truck, charged twice the price for it, and all you got was a 17 percent reduction in fuel consumption. It might be a while before another vehicle unseats this Unholy Fail.

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Kaiserserserser
Kaiserserserser
9 days ago

FYI Mercedes, your article was so good that it inspired Jalopnik to publish basically the same exact article (but lower quality) a week later.

But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Jalopnik just so happened to decide to write about a 15 year old truck within a week of your writing 🙂

Bob the Hobo
Bob the Hobo
9 days ago

I’ve seen one of the Via Silverados parked at an electrical utility company in my old town. Now I know why it stays parked.
I’ve always wondered if anyone had toyed with replacing transmissions with an electric setup for some mild hybrid benefits but it seems they could have worked this one out a bit better.

Ben
Ben
17 days ago

Well, as it turned out, the 100 mpg claim was only true if you never drove further than 60 miles.

In fairness to them, this is how PHEVs work. There are plenty of days I drive less than 60 miles and I’d love to get 100 MPG out of my truck on them, especially if it got comparable mileage to the regular ICE version on longer trips. Obviously this truck had other drawbacks, but I don’t think the MPG is one of them.

Ten years and 47,000 miles after it was built, the VTRUX tested by Dunn got half of its advertised range.

So when is David buying one and calling it the “perfect EV truck”? 😛

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
18 days ago

As Dunn explains, Via Motors purchased a few hundred to a few thousand or so half-ton Silverado with a 4.6-liter 297 HP and 330 lb-ft torque V6 engine. “

Actually it’s the base GM 4.3L V6. And I suspect the lower power rating had to do with the peak RPM that the hybrid system would allow it to go.

And yeah… I already saw that Aging Wheels video. I love the stuff Robert Dunn comes out with.

And it’s hilarious how Bob Lutz has shit on Tesla for such a long time (and continues to) while garbage like this VTrux is some of the best HE has come up with on his own.

Reasonable Pushrod
Reasonable Pushrod
17 days ago

Bob brought us the Volt, which was a greatly under appreciated vehicle, so I wouldn’t say he only had garbage ideas on electrification.

Dinklesmith
Dinklesmith
18 days ago

A PHEV truck is such a good idea, I wished GM had made a go of this back when Lutz decided to throw his weight behind it. Too bad it didn’t work as well as advertised

Vishnoy Vadakkancheri
Vishnoy Vadakkancheri
19 days ago

Via Motors also demoed a high-performance model called the XTRUX (gotta love these names!) that allegedly matched the “100MPGE” claims of the VTRUX series. Instead of the piddly V6, it was powered by two 402HP electric motors hooked up to the VTRUX battery, which was charged by a Vortec 5300 5.3L V8. This allowed for a total power output of 800HP! Given how spectacularly far the VTRUX’s performance fell from its claims, I’d bet the XTRUX was even further off, if it ever actually existed in the first place. It sure would’ve been cool to see a full-size pickup putting down legit quad-motor Rivian numbers on the streets nearly a decade before the first R1S ever hit the market.

(P.S. nitpicking here but GM has never made a 4.6L V6; the GMT900 and GMTK2XX trucks were available with a few 4.3L variants, a few of which ended up powering the VTRUX’s)

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
19 days ago

Aging wheels has great content, one of my favorite channels, when I saw the video I thought it’d be about ecotuned, that was replacing entire truck engine bays with some packaged motor/battery unit, I hadn’t even heard of this via thing, 2010s were crazy times.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
19 days ago

I love Robert Dunn and Aging Wheels (beep-beep) and I’m from a whole other continent! 😀

86-GL
86-GL
19 days ago

I borrowed a GMT900 Sierra 4×4 with the V6 a few years ago, and dear god that truck was slow and terrible on gas.
It’s like it was engineered specifically to punish you for not buying the V8.

Not surprised that a series hybrid based on the same drivetrain would yield unimpressive results.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
19 days ago

This reminds me of the Hybrid transit buses we tried in the late aughts.

Drivetrain was a traction motor hooked to the rear diff via driveshaft, lithium batteries in the roof, and a transverse mounted 6.7 cummins attached to a generator in the rear.

There were two inherent problems with the bus.
1. The power steering, air compressor, and A/C compressor were all engine driven, to the engine was always running. It would just idle up & down based on electric demand (which was 1800rpm most of the time you were on the throttle)
2. It was designed for low speed, stop & go routes. But our organization ran them on express routes where they barely made use of regenerative braking.

These factors combined to make these buses return WORSE fuel economy than our pure diesel fleet (which get an abysmal 3mpg on average, or 100L/100km)

It’s a damn shame, cause the rest of the Orion VII bus it was installed in, was a very well built bus and incredibly easy to repair and work on.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
18 days ago

Those original Orion hybrids were such a half-assed overpriced design – They cost something like $200,000 more than the standard bus

And given the price premium, it was pathetic that the original batteries they used were lead acids… which typically had to be replaced after a year.

After a couple of years, the dipshits at Orion/Mercedes figured out that they have to use *modern* batteries to make it all work somewhat well.

And even when it worked for city routes, it only got around 10% better fuel economy.

I read about the service experience on these half-assed buses in a Toronto Transit Commission report. The TTC had many of these 1st gen hybrids from Orion.

It’s like they just slapped together a quick and dirty solution (with no real engineering or testing) just to take advantage of government incentives.

It’s no wonder Orion has shut down and Mercedes pulled out of the North American bus market.

I use public transit semi-regularly and have observed how the modern hybrid buses from New Flyer and Nova Bus actually do turn off the engine and, based on reports I read, off better durabilty and fuel economy.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
18 days ago

The way Ottawa built their transit system, the hybrids of the aughts didn’t make sense. Now they’d likely do better. Ours did have lithium batteries, not lead acid. The software that controls it was good and easy to use (BAE system’s IDS software). I’m actually stoked that the Nova EV buses we have coming are using the BAE system instead of the insanity that New Flyer has cobbled together at the moment.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
17 days ago

With the BEV test fleet the TTC has, the New Flyer buses seem to be holding up the best. Of course it’s competing against the bankrupt Proterra and the Chinese BYD.
https://stevemunro.ca/2022/04/10/ttc-ebus-study-final-results/

Apparently the TTC is looking to get in some BEV buses from Nova (as well as more NFI electric buses) in their next round of purchasing.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
17 days ago

They are. I know because we piggy-backed their tender for our order. Our 4 NFI buses are doing well.

Sarah Blikre
Sarah Blikre
20 days ago

Aging Wheels is probably my favorite YouTube channel right now

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
20 days ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

Totally agree!

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
19 days ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

Same. That and Technology Connections.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
19 days ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

Technology Connections is amazing. His quest for ideal Christmas lights is genuinely captivating

TheWombatQueen
TheWombatQueen
18 days ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

Technology Connections is top tier

FndrStrat06
FndrStrat06
19 days ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

He’s single-handedly gotten me interested in the tech behind electric drivetrains.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
20 days ago

Not to be overly pedantic, but I believe the V6 being referenced is the LV3 that was offered starting in 2013, which is 4.3L and only offered 297hp/330lb-ft when running on E85 (285hp/305lb-ft on regular gas). Not a bad engine, though the LV1 without the AFM is the one you want, but the power figures when running gasoline make the electric motor a little closer to being on par with its gas generator’s power.

Church
Church
20 days ago

Wow. Just… wow. That is quite the fail. Like Top Gear levels of fail, but at least those guys were doing it for laughs.

Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
20 days ago

Indeed, I knew nothing about this one. You stumped me.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
20 days ago

I’m pretty sure coca-cola bought a handful of the expresses as delivery vans. there is one that I see puttering around town in coke livery every now and then

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
20 days ago
Reply to  beachbumberry

Back when these were new, the local Coca Cola distributor that would stock my employer’s cafeteria had one of the Via vans. It was pretty interesting, but it was gone in a year or two and replaced by a then-new Ram Promaster.

John J Gerding
John J Gerding
20 days ago

My Durango Hellcat constantly nags me to put my hands on the wheel. Annoying as hell and you apparently can’t turn it off. On the other hand, I LOVE adaptive cruise control.

TheWombatQueen
TheWombatQueen
18 days ago
Reply to  John J Gerding

Did you comment on the wrong article?

Lotsofchops
Lotsofchops
17 days ago
Reply to  TheWombatQueen

Seems like the “what modern car feature do you refuse to use” article maybe.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
20 days ago

I’m wondering what you could use 140v power for? It sounds like a great way to wreck your 120v tools.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
19 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

I saw that, too (one of several typos). Probably meant to say 240 volt. Also, what’s with “Raser claimed anywhere between 40 miles of range on EV power alone.” and “The gas engine acts as a gas generator, which drives the electric generator behind it.”?

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
20 days ago

Bob Lutz: If you can find a better truck, better buy it.

Arnold: Dis truck sucks, and Bob is not good neighba…

LTDScott
LTDScott
20 days ago

Love Aging Wheels.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
20 days ago

When I saw the headline I immediately thought of the mid 2000s Silverado hybrid. The “hybrid” was essentially an idle stop feature since the electric motor could not provide any propulsion. I think it increased fuel economy maybe 2 mpg, but only in situations involving prolonged idling (mostly rush hour traffic). At all other times it did nothing. It did cost an extra $2500 and add complexity to the truck, though. In its defense, it also included some onboard power features which were useful, but calling it a “hybrid” was a stretch.

The VTRUX sounds like it was poorly executed but generally a good idea. I would consider the original Silverado Hybrid to be more of an Unholy Fail than this truck.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
20 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Yes, and I believe GM used the failure of that to determine that the market didn’t want hybrid trucks, as opposed to the market just not wanting half assed hybrid trucks with little to no fuel economy improvement

John Beef
John Beef
20 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Classic GM!

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
19 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

You are being generous referring to the Silverado Hybrid as half assed. It was a quarter assed effort at most. I don’t think it was even a genuine attempt to build a hybrid truck. At the time, it seemed like Chevrolet was doing the bare minimum required to claim they sold a hybrid. I have a hard time believing anyone at GM really thought this was the Prius of pickup trucks, but that was what it was sold as.

It definitely set back the development of full-size hybrid trucks, though. That is one of the reasons I see it as a true Unholy Fail. It was useless at its stated purpose AND set back the development of real hybrid trucks.

Last edited 19 days ago by Stig's Cousin
Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
19 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I remember attending a GM presentation in the mid-aughts and hearing them pat themselves on the back for their “quiet, behind-the-scenes” work on hybrid technology, as if that was a virtue.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
20 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I live in the neighborhood of misfit vehicles. One of my neighbors has (or had – haven’t seen it recently) a Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and another has a mid 2000’s Silverado Hybrid – which is still running.

Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
20 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I remember the hybrid silverados. Didn’t Didn’t have massive “Hybrid” script down the side? Didn’t they apply it to other vehicles on that full size platform? I also remember the option being far more expensive than $2500, but maybe I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time, just ask my wife.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
20 days ago
Reply to  Ariel E Jones

Most of the trucks were equipped with the massive HYBRID stickers on the side but it was an option.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
19 days ago
Reply to  Ariel E Jones

I don’t recall other vehicles having a similar “hybrid” system. I think it was just the Silverado, at least for the first few years. They came out with other full-size hybrid vehicles a few years later (maybe around 2010?). Those had actual hybrid drivetrains unlike the 2005 “hybrids.”

It was only $2500. I recall it being more expensive as well, but I looked it up and it was only $2500.

Jacob Rippey
Jacob Rippey
20 days ago

You had me at Bob Lutz.

Aaron
Aaron
20 days ago
Reply to  Jacob Rippey

Few auto execs swing between savvy brilliance and lunatic idiocy as much as Maximum Bob Lutz. For every Chevy Volt, Ford Explorer, Dodge Viper, etc… there’s a Fisker, VLF, or VIA on his resume.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
20 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

John DeLorean certainly comes to mind. They were both ahead of their time in their own ways.

Gee See
Gee See
20 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Well in the end, it is like baseball batting average.. some people get less than 0.5 and still get into Hall of Fame.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
18 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Not to mention that Lutz was still saying Tesla was gonna go under as recently as 2020… AFTER they company had become solidly profitable due to the sales success of the Model 3.

Hell, even back in the mid 2000s, I recall reading some shit that he said that I knew was flat out wrong and made me think “man… this guy is completely out to lunch”

On a lot of subjects (especially when it comes to tech and BEVs), he acts like he knows everything but actually doesn’t know nearly as much as he or other people thinks he knows.

Lutz is an old-school car guy who is 20 years past his best-before date. And he has the same old-school mentality that BEVs are only suitable for golf carts and other low speed vehicles.

Last edited 18 days ago by Manwich Sandwich
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
20 days ago
Reply to  Jacob Rippey

In this case, Truck Lutz.

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