The electric effect: Unpacking Tesla’s new semi truck

Tesla Semi

On November 16, 2017, Tesla unveiled its new electric semi truck, the Tesla Semi. The vehicle has generated substantial interest among enterprises and investors alike, but what’s really under the hood? What does the new transport truck bring to the table, what does it mean for the market at large, and what are competitors doing in response? Let’s unpack the impact of Telsa’s new offering.

The Electric Effect

Tesla Charger

Just like Tesla’s other vehicles, the Semi uses electricity instead of gasoline (or diesel) as fuel. The large batteries needed to supply engine and system power will require “megachargers” leveraging solar panels to recharge the truck after each use. Since the truck is a Class 8 – the largest class of heavy-duty freight trucks – there’s been speculation about just how far each battery charge will take a fully-loaded semi. According to Tesla founder Elon Musk, the truck can reach 500 miles when fully powered, and using the megacharger network for just 30 minutes will add 400 miles worth of range.

These are good numbers, since they put the new semi in contention for long-haul trucking routes, but there’s still concern about the depth and breadth of Tesla’s megacharger network. If drivers can’t easily access charging stations or range promises don’t hold up, this could be a dealbreaker.

The price of power

So how much will a new Tesla truck cost? Musk hasn’t revealed a final price, but interested companies will need to hand over a deposit of $5000 to reserve one, with delivery expected in 2019. So far, retail giant Walmart has pre-ordered 15 new trucks and there’s interest from other large enterprises.

The Tesla launch event did include some details about operating cost, aiming for approximately $1.26 per mile. If true, this beats out the $1.59 per-mile cost of diesel – but there’s speculation that batteries alone for the new truck could cost more than $150,000, making the trucks an expensive entry-level proposition.

Semi specifics

Beyond battery capacity and cost, the launch event also touched on other features of the new Tesla Semi. These include:

  • Hauling capacity – Musk says the trucks will haul 80,000 pounds, putting them on-par with traditional long-haul vehicles.
  • Safety features – the new trucks come with automatic braking, lane tracking, and enhanced autopilot, along with “nuclear explosion-proof glass” in the cab. Using the autopilot feature should let truckers form “platoons” of Tesla trucks, which act like convoys to drive down operating costs.
  • Familiar architecture – the Tesla Semi will use the same electric motors found in Tesla’s Model 3 sedans, with each of its two drive axles sporting two electric motors. Musk says that even if two of the four motors fail, the truck will continue to operate.
  • Streamlined speed – the reveal also included some not-so-typical truck features. For example, the new semis can reach 60 miles per hour from a full stop in 20 seconds when loaded. In addition, their drag coefficient (a measurement of vehicle aerodynamics) comes in at 0.36 — more aerodynamic than Bugatti supercars, which offer only 0.38.

Profits and competitors

What’s the bottom line for the Tesla Semi? Well, the company just posted its worst financial quarter, meaning its new semi (and roadster) lines need to perform if Tesla wants to stay relevant. But it’s not all bad news, since competitors are taking notice of the new electric offering – Nikola Motor Company now offers a fuel-cell powered truck, and Cummins revealed a Class 7 electric truck in August. On Tesla’s end, meanwhile, American big-box chain Meijer placed an order for five trucks, while Canadian grocery store Loblaws put down money for 25 production models.

Speaking of production, Musk has cited “production hell’ issues after recent storms damaged Tesla manufacturing plants and Model 3 battery bottlenecks have hampered large-scale production. Still, there’s clear confidence in the new electric offering. If pre-orders are delivered on time and buyers get what they’ve been promised, Tesla Semis could charge past the competition.


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Photos by: Smnt

Video by: The Verge

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