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Why Electric Cargo Vans are Rare

Joe Peoria | June 15, 2020


I was out walking the dog the other day and, as is the norm for a gearhead like myself, devoting most of my attention to the driveways of the houses past which I walked.

The neighborhood I was walking in is occupied by a mix of hipsters, young families, retirees, and college students. And this being southwestern Montana, nearly every driveway contained a Subaru.

I was bored. But then I spotted this Chevrolet Express van with some graphics on its side. At first, I assumed it was a contractor’s van or some ridiculous #VanLife affair until I saw that it said “electric vehicle” on the side.

What? I thought all cargo vans had big, gas-guzzling V8 engines with pushrods and lifter noise!

It turns out that this van is a conversion performed by an operation called VIA Motors International, Inc under “VTRUX” branding. According to the Orem, UT-based company’s website, the company converts stock Express vans and Silverado 1500s into EVs.

How do Electric Cargo Vans Work?

These trucks use a setup similar to the Chevrolet Volt, in which an electric battery is used to depletion then recharged by a gas generator. Further research indicated that Bob Lutz (yes, THE Bob Lutz) is a chairman of the company, and VIA’s website boasts that its customers include PG&E and Verizon Wireless.

Why Electric Vans Make No Sense

I was surprised I had never heard of VTRUX before. I would expect to have seen them all over. An electric van for local deliveries and contracting with the range for occasional longer runs? Lower running costs? Good environmental PR? Sounds like any company’s dream van.

But then I looked at numbers. For starters, a VTRUX van like the one I spotted on my walk will cost (and this is a direct quote from VIA’s website), “about twice as much as an equivalent Express or Silverado that doesn’t plug in.”

Seeing as an absolute base Chevrolet Express will run you around $30,000, one can easily see how the sticker price of a VTRUX van alone would discourage the bean counters tasked with purchasing fleet vehicles.

Secondly, a VTRUX van reportedly has a battery-only range of a mere 35 miles before the gasoline generator kicks in to recharge the battery. 35 miles may be sufficient for a courier in New York City, but in a rural western state like mine, that’s a single beer run.

OPEC Throwback

After reviewing the VTRUX van’s specifications, I understand why I don’t see one at every intersection. They just don’t make any sense. A full-size Chevy van is too big for a city courier, and at $60,000, it would take an obscene amount of time to make up the markup over a Nissan NV200 or Ford Transit Connect.

And with a 35-mile electric range, one that can barely rival that of a homemade electric car of the OPEC-embargo era, a VTRUX doesn’t make sense outside a city. And if a vehicle doesn’t make sense for a city, and it doesn’t make sense outside a city, then where does it make sense? Maybe only in this particular driveway.