Last Thursday at an event held at the Municipal Airport in Hawthorne, the Los Angeles suburb where Tesla CEO Elon Musk's rocket and spacecraft company SpaceX is based, Musk introduced a prototype of his company's new electric Semi truck to a crowd of over 2,000 attendees. According to Musk, the truck has a 500-mile range on one charge even if it's fully loaded at a gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds. Musk said it will be able to maintain a speed of 65 mph while going up a 5 percent grade, compared with a diesel’s speed of 45 mph. The Semi can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds (unburdened by a trailer), compared with 15 seconds for a diesel truck. It also comes with a million-mile guarantee on its powertrain. Tesla hasn't released a price for the Semi, but Musk indicated that it would be expensive.
In his presentation, Musk said the cost of operating an electric semi tractor-trailer would be $1.26 per mile, compared with $1.51 per mile in a diesel truck. The figure assumes a diesel price of $2.50 a gallon versus 7 cents/kWh for electricity, and a maximum load traveling at an average speed of 60 mph. The company says that will translate into thousands of dollars in savings.
In describing the truck, Musk also said its windshield is made of "thermonuclear explosion-proof glass" — a feature he says will help truckers stay on the road, because regulations require commercial trucks to be sidelined if their windshields are cracked in a way that could affect the driver's view.
The Tesla Semi was supposed to be unveiled last October 26, but Tesla said then it would need to reschedule the unveiling to November 16 as it focused on fixing production issues tied to Model 3 and increase battery production for Puerto Rico. The unveiling of the truck had been delayed for the second time this year. Musk had initially said the truck would be unveiled in September, but he later rescheduled it to late October.
At the event, Musk also introduced Tesla's all electric sportscar named the Roadster, which Musk said is "the fastest production car ever made, period." Musk unveiled the Roadster toward the end of the event that was supposed to be all about Tesla's new Semi trucks. Musk surprised the crowd by announcing there was one more thing to add — and the new car rolled out of the truck's trailer.
The Roadster can take itself from zero to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds and from zero to 100 mph in 4.2 seconds. The Roadster will be able to run a quarter-mile in 8.9 seconds. Its top speed is "above 250 mph," Musk said. The Roadster will have a range of 620 miles, he added.
The Roadster will be available in 2020. Production of the truck is expected to begin in 2019; Musk said customers who order now would get the vehicles in two years.
The Roadster will cost at least $200,000 depending on the options chosen, the company says.
Tesla isn't alone in its quest to electrify semi-truck hauling, and it's not the first to the gate. Engine maker Cummins has already unveiled its own electric semi, the Aeos. It's capable of 100 miles of range from its 140-kWh battery pack, making it best suited for use in cities rather than for long hauls. Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, part of Daimler Trucks Asia (DTA) is releasing its own electric semi-truck, the Fuso eCanter. And Mercedes-Benz is letting 20 customers drive its Urban eTruck, which it first showed at the International Commercial Vehicle Show in 2016, for a year, with plans to reach full-scale production by 2020. Nikola Motor unveiled a hydrogen-powered rig that it says has a 1,200-mile top range and gets nearly double the equivalent fuel economy of the average diesel rig. Commercial truck firm Navistar says it’s working with Volkswagen, which is investing in $1.7 billion on electric power trains for trucks and buses. China's BYD and Los Angeles, CA-based Proterra have already rolled out hundreds of electric buses on the road.
Ian Wright, a former vice president of vehicle development at Tesla and founder of electric truck company Wrightspeed, says Tesla is now entering a fundamentally different business that sidelines many of Tesla’s advantages in the car market. “The people who buy big rigs are not doing it to make a fashion statement, they’re doing it to make money”. “They’re very sensitive to capital costs, operating costs, and payload. It’s got to do the job and ultimately pay for itself—that’s what they care about and that what you’ve got to prove.”
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