Tesla unveiled their long-awaited semi-truck on Thursday night. To announce the event, the founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, tweeted that it would “blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension.” And if the specs he announced become reality, the trucking industry actually could be in for a change.
Musk started the pitch talking about performance. After all, Tesla’s first product was a high-end sports car. For the semi, he touts what he called BAMF Performance. There are four electric motors, one on each rear wheel. With an unloaded trailer, the semi can go from 0 to 60mph in 5 seconds. Fully loaded at 80k lbs. gross vehicle weight, that number goes up to 60mph in 20 seconds.
The cab of the Tesla Semi also looks very different from your standard big rig. To start with, the first thing that jumps out at you is that the driver’s seat is in the middle of the cab. The driver is also situated very far forward in the cab because there’s no diesel engine taking up space.
But the big question for commercial drivers is about range. Musk claims that the Tesla Semi will have a 500 mile range at max vehicle weight travelling at highway speeds. And claims that that’s the worst-case scenario.
To achieve that, Tesla designed the semi to reduce drag as much as possible.
Instead of side mirrors, the semi makes use of cameras, and even the door handles push in instead of out to minimize drag. Side flaps extend from the back of the tractor to fit around any trailer size.
While a 500-mile range is likely enough for some drivers, it won’t be sufficient for OTR drivers if it takes hours to recharge the batteries. But according to Musk, it will only take 30 minutes to recharge to 400 miles of range using a Tesla Supercharger. “By the time you are done with your break, the truck is ready to go. You will not be waiting for your truck to charge,” he said.
Currently Tesla has a little over 2,000 Supercharger stations in the country, so expecting a 30-minute recharge time everywhere you drive might not be reasonable just yet.
Musk also touted the safety features of the semi. All Tesla semis will come standard with Enhanced Autopilot which lets the truck drive itself on the highway using radar and cameras. The truck will automatically brake, stay in its lane, and will have a forward collision warning system.
Because of the heavy batteries, the truck will have a very low center of gravity, greatly reducing rollover risk. It also has a system that will automatically prevent jack-knifing using the engines on the rear wheels. According to Musk, “jack-knifing is impossible.”
“We guarantee that the truck will not break down for a million miles,” said Musk.
With fewer parts than diesel trucks, there are fewer things to go wrong according to Musk. He claims that even “brake pads basically last forever” because when the truck brakes, it’s putting that energy straight back into the battery pack.
Even the windshield is made of what Musk calls “thermonuclear explosion-proof glass.” And while there was no proof offered for that, they did show a video of a trailer hitch slamming into the glass without cracking it.
Testing a tow hitch against standard truck glass vs. Tesla armor glass pic.twitter.com/UoDkBs6OUD
— Tesla (@Tesla) November 17, 2017
Here, the details were a bit fuzzy. Not once in the presentation did Musk announce a price for the Tesla Semi. He did give a per-mile “fully-accounted for price” which he claims includes cost of maintenance, payments on the trucks, etc of $1.26/mile. He compared that to what he claims is the $1.51/mile cost of running diesel.
Using what he calls “convoy technology,” Musk says that the cost of operating the truck will drop to $.85/mile, and that using the technology that is currently available, moving freight this way would already be 10 times safer than a human driver.
Despite all of the claims however, there’s still a lot of information we don’t have. We know very little about the battery, don’t have hard figures on torque, didn’t hear anything about a sleeper berth, and we don’t even know the exact price or release date. And those are just a few of the big question marks.
Tesla is also notorious for falling behind on its production dates, so even though production is set to begin in 2019, it’s not certain that you’ll be able to do what Musk claims: “Order now, get the truck in 2 years.”