Thursday, November 16 2017
Orlando, Fla. —Tesla recently unveiled its eagerly-awaited all-electric semi-truck!
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk has promised a truck that will “out-torque any diesel semi” and drive “like a sports car.” Seeing what an all-electric semi is capable of may be the most entertaining part of the night, even if it’s not a key metric for Tesla’s trucking customers.
Still, while we all wait for the complete rollout into our roads, there are a few things the industry is watching closely.
About the Long Range
The range of any electric vehicle is the critical metric—it defines how the vehicle can be used and the size of its potential market. Five years ago, few would have thought that a long-range heavy duty-truck was even possible. That’s changing fast. Daimler, the leader in Class 8 diesel trucks, recently unveiled a 220-mile range electric big rig, establishing a new bar for the industry. Long-range hauling across vast stretches of the U.S. would likely require more than 500 miles of range.
Batteries are the single most expensive component of any electric truck, and the battery of a cross-country hauler could cost $100,000 even before you build the truck around it. The sticker price, regardless of size, is going to be higher than its diesel equivalent because of those pricey batteries.
Platooning on Autopilot
Will the truck, expected to roll out by 2020, come with some level of autonomous driving? Tesla has been in talks with California and Nevada regulators about testing semis that can automatically follow a lead vehicle, a technique known as “platooning.” Platooning cuts fuel costs by reducing wind drag. And if the autonomous driving system is good enough to run without a driver, it could also dramatically cut labor expenses.
The biggest players in freight are good at keeping their trucks in top driving condition and averse to messing with the supply chain. Convincing companies like Swift, Ryder, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to bring an electric drivetrain into their fleets will be a tough sell. Tesla has been gathering feedback from trucking companies throughout the development process (at least one, Ryder, confirmed it), so it would be a good sign if Tesla comes out of the gate with some early partnerships.
A lot of infrastructure goes into servicing big rigs. Truck stops line the world’s highways, and fleet operators stand by with mountains of replacement parts ready to fix anything that might go wrong. How do they plan to deal with these hurdles? Will they introduce a whole new type of charging system, with ultrafast chargers or a robot that swaps out used batteries for fresh ones? Who will build out and operate the charging network? Who handles maintenance and roadside assistance?
Tesla’s car factory in Fremont, California, is running out of room and Tesla’s massive battery factory near Reno, Nevada, which is still under construction, seems like a more natural fit. That factory is also where Tesla makes electric motors and drivetrains—primary components for an electric semi.
Making it attractive to drivers
In a profile in this week’s Rolling Stone, Tesla’s CEO hinted at an unspecified “driver comfort feature”. Rumor says that a sweet coffee maker can make the cut, knowing that no one will buy it because of it, but still making it convenient for truck drivers.
Perhaps Tesla’s biggest advantage over other truck makers is that its Semi will share some core parts with its first mass-market car, the Model 3. Musk disclosed that the Semi uses “a bunch” of Model 3 motors, which sit in line with the truck’s axles. These relatively cheap electric motors will give the Semi unparalleled electric torque for getting quickly up to speed with a heavy load.
For more information visit https://www.tesla.com.
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