The Tesla Semi-Truck – Will Anyone Actually Use It?



Taking a leaf out of President Trump’s playbook Elon Musk tweeted last week:

“Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.”

In his Master Plan, Part Deux Musk states:

“We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”

Tesla Is the Most Valuable Auto Manufacturer in the United States

Tesla is riding a wave right now. Their share price is on the rise and their market cap surpassed Ford and General Motors last week. They are now the most valuable auto manufacturer in the United States. However it only produces a fraction of the vehicles that GM and Ford do – 80,000 versus nearly 17 million and they have yet to make a profit. But as in the case of Amazon they have incredibly loyal investors who continue to support Tesla’s story.

But The Numbers Have To Add Up

It’s a great position to make an announcement from but building a viable electric semi-truck is a very different challenge to building an electric consumer vehicle. Semi-trucks need to make money for their owners and if the numbers don’t add up they won’t buy the semi-truck.

A typical class 8 semi will travel 1400 miles on 300 gallons of diesel. The Tesla semi will probably run for 200 to 300 miles before its battery needs recharging. Tesla are keeping the specs of their new semi under wraps but according to the Tesla website their Superchargers will provide up to 170 miles of range in 30 minutes. Do the math and it will take 45 minutes to charge the semi. So that is 90 minutes of charge time in a typical daily run of 500 to 600 miles. Contrast that with a regular semi taking 10 minutes to fill up every three days. So that’s 90 minutes of neither the truck or the driver making money every single day.

The Nikola One

The Nikola Motor Company introduced the Nikola One Class 8 Hybrid Hydrogen/Electric Tractor late last year. It’s powered by a 300 kW hydrogen fuel cell in conjunction with a 320 kWh battery which can take it 800 to 1200 miles on one fill with a full load. The hydrogen fuel cell refills at a similar rate to a diesel tank. So for the long-haul runs a hybrid rig seems a much more attractive option. However Musk is adamant that he won’t develop hydrogen fuel cells which restricts the Tesla Semi to short-haul trips.

The Toyota Project Portal

Toyota take a different position and unveiled their Project Portal prototype 18-wheeler while Musk was busy tweeting. This zero emission “proof of concept” sports 2 hydrogen fuel cells and a small 12 kWh battery that can haul an 80,000 pound load 200 miles. Toyota are testing it at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It hauls cargo offloaded from ships to rail distribution centers about 60 miles away. Toyota maintains that this is only a test of the technology and have not committed to turning it into a commercial program, but it looks a perfect solution for the role it is currently undertaking.

Tesla Might Be in for a Rude Awakening!

It’s hard to see where the Tesla semi fits in the zero emission trucking sector. The Nikola One is focused on long-haul with its range of 800 to 1200 miles on one fill. The Toyota Project Portal is focused on short-haul and the Mercedes-Benz eTruck is focusing on urban “last mile delivery”. Each of these have been developed with applications in mind whereas the Tesla Semi seems to just be an extension of their electric automobiles.

As Tesla CTO JB Straubel states:

“I can’t say too much about the new products and the things we are developing, but from a pure technology point of view, everything that we’ve done on vehicles translates directly into trucks.”

Which implicitly confirms their thinking is just to take their proven powertrain technology, put it in a different chassis, and it will become successful. In my view they need to start thinking about its specific application pretty quickly, otherwise they are in for a rude awakening when the rubber meets the road!

If you’re interested in learning how shipping by rail might better meet your freight transportation needs call New Mexico Transloading at 505 – 908 – 1911. We’d be delighted to have a conversation with you.


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  • Chris Coutinho

    All Tesla has to do is convince truckers to spend just an extra hour a day to fuel up, plan their routes where chargers are available, spend a premium on the new and improved trucks, and be happy to spend a some good money again when the battery requires changing.

    This should be easy because the way Tesla drivers make decisions on buying cars directly translates into how truck drivers buy trucks.

    • Jamin Hutchens

      LOL! My point exactly! This brand new shiny thing looks fabulous, has torque you wouldn’t believe and only costs twice as much as the one you own now – and you would look really cool driving it. I know a trucker or two with more money than sense who would be first in line to pick one up. (But only two)!

      That’s why I’m scratching my head on this announcement. Elon Musk is a smart guy, he ships payloads to the space station after all. But I don’t know what problem he’s trying to solve with this new semi.
      The Nikola Motor Co. understand trucking. They are going for long haul. Sure you’ll pay a premium but the operating costs are 50%, lease terms are generous and they’ve freed up an extra 2000lbs of revenue weight.

      The Toyota Project is going for short haul and emission reduction at the ports. Daimler is about last mile delivery in towns & cities.

      We don’t have any concrete details on the Tesla Semi so all this is speculation right now. Maybe UPS or Fedex is going to buy a few fleets, doubtful but they may.

      He’s a smart guy and probably has something in his back pocket but I can’t figure out what that might be. We’ll just have to wait and see!

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