Tesla Unveils New Electric Semi

Elon Musk has done it again. Or has he?

On November 16, the quirky billionaire and Tesla Inc. CEO and co-founder unveiled a sleek prototype electric semi-truck (dubbed “Semi”), which he claims will travel 500 miles on a single charge. According to Musk, the average truck trip is less than 250 miles, so Semi could handle a standard round trip without recharging.

The truck’s battery pack is built into the floorboard, and can be charged to 80% of capacity within 30 minutes. Musk’s long-range plan includes the worldwide installation of solar-powered “mega-charging” stations.

Semi utilizes four independent motors and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds when fully loaded. And, Musk has said, the truck “feels like a sports car.”

Equipped with the most advanced safety mechanisms, Musk indicated that the vehicle will also be able to operate semi-autonomously in convoy. This would be the company’s first attempt at self-driving trucks.

The cab itself has been completely redesigned. It’s spacious, with a ceiling high enough to allow the occupants to stand upright. The captain’s chair is centrally located and flanked by two display screens — the same screens used in Tesla’s luxury Model 3 sedan. These screens provide navigation and scheduling data, as well as images depicting blind spots and other areas around the truck.

With no engine, transmission, and other traditional diesel truck components to get in the way, the seating area is pushed forward in the cab, not unlike a VW bus. To see highlights of the Tesla Semi unveiling, click here.

New Market for Tesla

Well-known for its all-electric luxury cars, this is Tesla’s first foray into the commercial freight market. Musk says he intends to begin mass production of the Tesla Semi by 2019. If that happens, it would open up a potentially lucrative new market for his company.

“A lot of people don’t think you can do a heavy-duty, long-range truck that’s electric, but we are confident that this can be done,” he said.

 

For years transportation firms seeking ways to reduce their emissions and operating costs have expressed keen interest in electric trucks. In addition to being emission-free, Tesla claims that its Semi will be much cheaper to maintain than standard diesel trucks and will cost just $1.26 a mile to run, versus $1.51 for a diesel.

“We’re guaranteeing that this truck will not break down for a million miles,” Musk said at the unveiling.

How Much Does It Really Cost?

Musk has not yet revealed the actual cost for the Tesla Semi though, except to admit that “Tesla stuff is expensive.”

However, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, a vehicle capable of covering 600 miles would need a battery pack that costs as much as $400,000. (This is for the battery alone, without considering the cost of the rest of the truck.) That compares with an average total cost of $120,000 for a standard diesel truck.

Still, Musk maintains that a diesel truck would be 20% more expensive overall, and that his Semi would beat a diesel truck economically, “from Day 1.”

Although Musk has not yet named a price for the Semi, a $5,000 deposit is required to reserve each truck. So far, Meijer Inc. has ordered four, and Walmart has secured 15.

Changes Likely

Because the Tesla Semi is still a testing prototype, it will likely go through a series of changes as the company prepares for production. (Of course, it’s also possible that production will be delayed, or fail altogether.)

The Tesla Semi boasts specifications that are unprecedented in the logistics industry…Tesla has to get many more pieces of the puzzle right to make this machine a market reality.” — Forbes, 11/20/17

And the Tesla truck is not the only kid on the block. Several other companies are actively working to develop electric semis and smaller delivery vehicles. Musk’s potential rivals include Daimler, Cummins and Bosch, as well as a host of startup companies.


Sources:

Axios

Fortune

Forbes

Reuters

MIT Technology Review