Doesn’t it seem like everything Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk touches turns to gold? Take the Pretoria-born billionaire’s successful start-ups, like the web software company called Zip2 that he started that was acquired by Compaq; or the online payment company X.com that eventually became PayPal; or his own space agency, SpaceX. Well, it seems his latest endeavor is to jump into the trucking industry by offering up an eco-friendly, electric semi-trailer truck. The biggest question on everyone’s mind is, if he builds them, will the market buy them?
Never the shrieking violet, Musk didn’t disappoint with the unveiling of his Tesla truck prototype at a highly-hyped event in November.
“I’m going to tell you about everything this truck can do,” Musk told a packed crowd at the Tesla truck event. “It blows my mind. I think it will blow yours.”
So, What Does The Tesla Truck Do?
Here’s a breakdown of some of most touted the features of these sensational Tesla trucks, according to Musk himself at the Tesla truck unveiling:1
The first thing Musk boasts about his Tesla trucks is that they are in a category all by themselves that he calls “BAMF Performance,” which stands for Bad (Censored) Mother (Censored) Performance.
Musk claims his electric Tesla semi-truck unloaded can go from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in just 5 seconds, while a standard diesel-powered truck unloaded takes about 20 seconds to get up to that speed. With an 80,000-lb. load and the semi-trailer, Musk claims the Tesla truck can reach 60 m.p.h. in just 20 seconds. While a standard diesel semi-truck and trailer takes about one minute to get up 60 m.p.h.
How about climbing uphill? The best diesel trucks can only do about 45 m.p.h. up a 5 percent grade, while the Tesla truck was field-tested doing 65 m.p.h. up a 5 percent grade.
The Tesla truck with a maximum load of 80,000 lbs. can travel 500 miles without charging. What does that mean? Well, 80 percent of all trucking trips are under 250 miles one way, which means the truck can then return back to its point of origin without recharging. A pretty remarkable feat some say.
How is the Tesla truck able to complete such feats? Musk says it’s due largely to the truck’s “bullet-shaped” design. Where most diesel trucks are built like a square-block design, the Tesla truck is tapered to cut down on the drag coefficient. The average drag coefficient for a diesel truck is .65 to .70; by comparison the $2 million Bugatti Chiron super car’s drag coefficient is .38. Well, the Tesla truck’s drag coefficient beats them both with a .36 drag coefficient. The bottom side of the truck is also completely flat, which allows air to pass straight through.
What’s Are The Perceived Downsides To Tesla Trucks?
So, we’ve seen the impressive array of amazing features Musk touts about his latest engineering innovation, but some critics believe they have found the chink in its armor:
The cost of Tesla trucks is a bit higher than conventional diesel-powered semi-trucks. For instance, one version that can travel 300 miles without recharge costs $150,000, which is slightly more than a Class 8 diesel truck that costs right around $120,000. The 500-mile range Tesla truck costs $180,000, and there’s also a “Founders Series” that goes for $200,000. However, Musk point to the truck’s estimated 20 percent reduction in operation costs as the justification for increased costs, because electricity is cheaper than diesel fuel.
Another drawback is perhaps the space the batteries could take up. Some critics believe the heavy batteries most likely take up valuable payload space reserved for cargo. Likewise, the lifespan of the batteries is unknown. And, just how often will they need to be replaced?
Now, a 500-mile range seems pretty impressive on a single charge, but fully loaded diesel trucks can already go 1,000 miles on a single tank of gas. But, Musk says Tesla trucks can recharge in just 30 minutes at strategically located “megachargers.”
Semi-auto driving system
The Tesla truck will also be equipped with the latest semi-autonomous driving system, which will enable the vehicle to stay in its lane without veering. It can also change lanes and move from one freeway to anther seamlessly without a driver’s hands on the wheel or foot on the gas pedal. Not surprisingly, these new technology features still have many in the trucking industry uncomfortable, since we’ve already seen some unreliability and even some deaths occur using semi-autonomous vehicles.
So, there seems to be plenty of interest among supporters to move forward with Tesla’s electric truck, but will they be able to launch on time is what many are still wondering. Musk’s Tesla manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA is already maxed out with production of its Model 3 sedan, and it appears there’s probably not enough room at the plant for expansion. So, suffice it to say, many are left scratching their heads wondering how Musk could meet a 2019 production launch date. Is it just a pipe dream? We’d all welcome an environmentally-friendly truck, but are we ready for these cyborg-like devices, when there’s still uncertainties with the safety of the concept?
“Are the risks too great to the driving public at this point?” wonders truck accident attorney Troy Chandler of Houston-based Chandler NcNulty LLP. “Truck drivers have proven driving records. But, these self-driving vehicles are still unproven as far as public opinion goes. It also brings into question insurance premiums. Presumably, the burden of liability in a Tesla trucking accident will fall more heavily on Tesla and the trucking company than the driver, since these trucks will probably be in self-drive mode most of the time.”
1“Elon Musk Reveals the Dream Truck: Tesla Semi” published on YouTube, Nov. 2017.