Does the Tesla Truck blow your mind?


Last night, Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Truck. But will a list of safety features, a credible range, and impressive performance be enough to sell this beast?

elon musk semi
Elon Musk launches semi-autonomous semi

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla is nothing if not a showman par excellence. In a Tweet he said:

What did he reveal? A prototype of an 18-wheel electric semi (tractor unit in UK English) he claims is capable of 500 miles between charges when fully loaded, accelerates 0-60mph in five seconds or 0-60mph in 20 seconds when fully loaded with 80,000lb (36 tonnes), the maximum load allowed on US highways.

The semi can haul at 65mph on a 5% grade compared to 45mph by a diesel.

The semi is due to be available in 2020 at an as yet unspecified price. Given past history, expect that to be more like 2021-22.

The truck is semi-autonomous, which will ensure it travels in the correct lane, has automatic forward collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking as standard. Jackknife prevention is achieved by dynamically adjusting the torque on each wheel. I suspect that modest list of safety measures is only the start of Musk’s long-term vision for a fully autonomous truck.

Musk compares the electric truck with diesel vehicles that go 1,000 miles on a single tank. He argues that despite the relatively short range, the electric truck will be at least 20% cheaper per mile than a diesel in operating costs. He also notes that 80% of routes are less than 250 miles, well within the scope of the electric truck. On reliability, Musk says that Tesla will guarantee the truck will not break down in a million miles.

The diesel range argument is something of a distraction because the US regulation on driver hours do not provide enough time for a trucker to pass the 1,000 mile limit before needing to take a break.

On the other hand, Musk’s semi will require a network of charging stations along the main arterial routes. Although there has been an explosive expansion of the electric charging station network, it is still a fraction of the number of gas stations covering the whole 50 states. Is five years enough time to complete that network? Possibly.

My take

Musk thinks big and wows an audience. Investors will be harder to win over. To date, Tesla has consistently missed on delivery dates and has never made a profit. Some investors may see the Tesla Truck as a distraction from getting its main car business in order.

On the front line of sales, Tesla will find itself at the sharp end of the accountant’s pencil as it makes the operational cost argument compared to diesel. It will be interesting to see how Tesla assembles the detailed argument. A few slick slides won’t be enough. Expect Tesla to develop different operating scenarios based upon different distance and load comparisons.

And then there’s the impact on truckers themselves. While the Tesla Truck looks impressive and the ream of safety features give comfort, the long-term vision and logical endgame are to dispense with the truck driver. How will operators respond?

One thing you can bet. The buying price of the Tesla Truck will be higher than existing diesel alternatives. That may price the truck outside the scope of independent operators until the economics are clear.

Endnote As sure as night follows day, an investor is early in pouring an ice bucket on this one with questions about power consumption, battery capability and the all important caost.

Image credit - via Tesla

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    1. Rick Bullotta says:

      There was no data regarding charging time discussed in the reveal, as far as I know. Clearly it will be slower than an electric car. Laws of physics do apply. Also, the supercharger stations being installed are designed specifically for cars, thus the truck charging network will need to start from scratch.

      If you ask a real truck driver where else tech could help, it would be with reversing the vehicle to align with a loading dock, parking location, etc…

    2. Warren Buffett’s buying the majority of Pilot Flying J truck stops could be a play for recharging stations. Maybe Shai Agassi’s Better Place has patents…