By on August 25, 2017

tesla-semi-teaser

Tesla Motors will be dabbling in the commercial freight industry when it unveils its electric semi-trailer next month. But, with news of it only possessing a 200- to 300-mile range between charges, dabbling may be a best-case-scenario. Diesel-powered rigs traditionally run in excess of 1,300 miles between stops, even though they also go through hundreds of gallons of fuel in the process. And it’s all that burned fuel that makes the concept of an electric tractor-trailer so appetizing to the trucking industry.

However, the EV prototype “long-hauler” won’t be fit for cross-country trips due to its limited range — meaning the inevitable Smokey and the Bandit remake probably isn’t going to have the Bandit or Snowman driving Teslas. 

According to Reuters, Scott Perry, chief procurement officer at Ryder, said he met with Tesla officials earlier this year to discuss the technology at the automaker’s main facility in Fremont, California. Perry explained the manufacturer’s goals centered around an electric day cab rig with no sleeper compartment, capable of traveling roughly 200 to 300 miles with a complete payload before needing to be recharged. But even among shorter distance day cab trucks, Tesla’s rumored range isn’t exactly competitive. Non-sleeper diesel tractors can easily clock 600 miles before having to worry about refueling.

“I’m not going to count them out for having a strategy for longer distances or ranges, but right out of the gate I think that’s where they’ll start,” Perry explained.

Tesla Motors is famous for teasing details and not providing the full story until the very last minute. It may already have something better waiting in the wings. Company CEO Elon Musk has expressed his desire for large-scale production of the Tesla Semi within a couple of years. It’s conceivable that the prototype could represent a modest offering, with longer range variants to follow. The company is also promising autonomous features that would eventually limit the need for a human operator.

“We’re getting [the trucking industry] closely involved in the design process, so the biggest customers of the heavy duty Tesla semi are helping ensure that it is specified to their needs, so it’s not a mystery,” Musk told shareholders in June. “They already know that it’s going to meet their needs, because they’ve told us what those needs are. So it’ll really just be a question of scaling volume to make as many as we can.”

The trucking industry has been monitoring Tesla’s trucking plans with healthy dose of skepticism, though. Servicing these already expensive vehicles could be extremely problematic and no fleet manager is going to green-light spending if the logistics don’t work. Range is also a critical factor within the commercial freight industry and these hypothetical EV trucks offer diminished distances and a lengthy recharging period.

Electric semi trucks are believed to lose their economic feasibility past a 300-mile range. Present-day battery technology would effectively limit it to around that threshold. Anything more and rigs would need to be equipped with heavy external power supplies, probably in the trailer — which would limit their usefulness.

“There is a certain amount of hype to Tesla’s announcement,” said Antti Lindstrom, an analyst at global research firm IHS Markit, last April. “It doesn’t seem that long-distance trucking is ready for electrification right now.”

Musk disagrees, obviously. “A lot of people don’t think you can do a heavy-duty, long-range truck that’s electric, but we are confident that this can be done,” he said.

Roughly 30 percent of U.S. trucking jobs are regional trips of 100 to 200 miles, according to Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer of Toronto-based Fleet Complete, which tracks and analyzes trucking routes. “As long as [Musk] can break 200 miles he can claim his truck is ‘long haul’ and he will be technically right,” Kar said.

[Image: Tesla]

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61 Comments on “Stopping Short: Tesla’s Electric ‘Long-hauler’ Rumored to Have a Maximum Range Under 300 Miles...”


  • avatar

    You stopped short, with my wife?!

  • avatar
    Hummer

    So can they make compatible trailers that have a floor several inches thick with batteries? 54′ of trailer floor at 6 inches deep could make a heck of a battery. Granted it would weight a LOT… and cost a lot…

    • 0 avatar

      @Hummer

      Ownership of tractor and trailer isn’t always the same making a trailer battery somewhat unlikely. Trailers are often dropped off and left in remote locations and parking lots, the value of those batteries will be very enticing to a thief.

      It’ll be interesting to see how Tesla addresses the issues with electric long-haul trucks.

      Without a range extender I don’t know how you do it.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Yea, that was my primary concern with that idea, however I’m sure there are instances where that could be a solution. But then again weight becomes a major issue.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    So Tesla will be producing a truck which meets the definition of ‘long haul’ because it can go over 200 miles, which will meet the requirements of over 30% of the industry.

    Even if such a truck goes only 1 mile per kWh, you’re cutting operating costs dramatically, and that’s a big deal.

    If Tesla can really do this, they’ll have a hard time building enough of them.

    Nobody ever promised, and nobody ever expected, that a Tesla truck would go the mythical 600-1300 miles cited above. The implied criticism here is akin to the trolls who expect an EV to go 501 miles, refill in 4.9 minutes, seat 7, tow 5001 lbs, and cost $25k.

    What I’d really like to see Tesla do is produce electric garbage trucks, but I think they’re leaving that to others.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      This. Yes, EVs aren’t ready to meet all the needs of the trucking industry. But if they’re adequate for 30% of the market, that’s a pretty big chunk. Assuming the fuel and maintenance costs are significantly lower than diesel, they should sell plenty of these.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Electric UPS delivery trucks would be a great use for this technology, too. The ones around here are always accelerating full throttle between houses, then getting shut off for 45 seconds, then restarted and raced to the next location.
      Electric propulsion would provide quick acceleration, no emissions, no starter motor wear, and faster “go” times from the just=concluded delivery. The roof (and perhaps even the sides), covered with solar panels, would provide a bit more charge, even when parked on a Sunday.
      USPS mail trucks would also be a good market for Mr. Musk to have a look at.
      (Just don’t subcontract your batteries from GM, Elon.)

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Absolutely. UPS trucks — with major torque needs, constant stop and start, low average speed (running for long times but low mileages), operating in city environments where less noise and pollution would be welcome — represent an ideal use case for an electric drivetrain.

        US Mail vanlets even more so, since they’re smaller and lighter and don’t need as much pricey battery capacity. The Grumman LLVs, whether they have the 2.5 liter Iron Duke or 2.2 liter Cobalt engine, are rated at 16/18 mpg but return about 10 mpg in real world service. At that rate, battery power pays off a damn site quicker vs gasoline than for some commuter car. (Although IIRC some of the LLVs run natural gas: apparently it’s cheaper than gasoline, burns cleaner, and allows longer intervals between rebuilds. Even so, 115 mpge beats 10 mpg.)

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      +1 on the garbage truck.

      Because of the way politics works in my town, we have private garbage haulers. Which means that at least 6 garbage trucks come down my street every day.

      As I live in Illinois, a political solution appears unlikely. There are entrenched commercial interests which don’t want to be replaced by a more efficient governmental trash hauling service. Also, many people make a living driving those inefficient and redundant garbage trucks down my street. So a technological fix to this seems more likely.

      All they need to do is extend the chassis of their semi truck and let someone else bolt a garbage compactor onto it.

      The hard part will he selling it to all of those redundant trash haulers. One of them was so bad at running an actual business that they couldn’t even track their accounts receivable properly. Business like that aren’t going to be doing TCO calculations. Maybe those people will be driven out of business the old fashioned way.

      But, yeah, I’d be much less unhappy if 6 quiet electric trucks with regenerative braking drove down my street stopping every 40 yards every Monday, instead of 6 ancient diesel trucks.

      Argh.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    I just hope Uncle Sam will be extra generous with long-haul EV subsidies. Perhaps some free electricity (solar generated of course), exemptions from paying purchase taxes, road tolls or any weight related restrictions or taxation – I mean we should all be eager to pay whatever it takes in order to allow Saint Musk to save the planet from all those carbon fueled Macks, Kenworths and Peterbilts.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      What you say sarcastically, I say without sarcasm.

      Musk is doing what our government should have been sponsoring our universities, research labs, and entrepreneurial communities to do since the 1970s (or since around 2006, when I figured this out). But, due to conservative politics and endless foreign wars which have been going on for my entire adult life, we had to wait around for Musk to do it.

      It’s a relief to see someone doing what my friends and I talked about doing when we were students — before we realized how little our salaries would buy, how much our employers would limit our creativity, and how many hours our families would lovingly require of us as adults. But one of us managed to bust through all of those barriers and actually do it.

  • avatar
    Polishdon

    Here’s a thought. Why can’t it be a box truck (i.e. 24′-30′ size) with the roof being covered in solar panels?

  • avatar
    Lex

    They seem to be targeting is short haul trips with designated stops conceivably equipped with spare batter packs that would be hot-swappable.

    I’d wager that Tesla is testing the waters with a POC to try and entice the main carriers. The incredibly high cost of these things (and their potential infrastructure) means that initial units could be heavily subsidized – Perhaps one of the reasons Tesla was trying to raise cash with junk bonds

  • avatar
    Jason801

    a) Gotta start somewhere.
    b) Big deliveries happen inside of cities, too. Grocery store locations from centralized distribution comes to mind.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Agree, this is what the industry calls a “short haul day cab” vocation. Plenty of those around.

      Will be interesting to watch, my take is unless there are epic govt subsidies (certainly California and the like could ante up) it won’t be more than a curiosity.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Don’t forget the truck-bound containers arriving at the Port of Los Angeles.

        The locals around the port hate breathing diesel and bunker-oil fumes, and it’s been a slowly-improving but simmering problem since before I was born.

        An electric truck which could move those containers through LA and on to the next stop on their journey would probably sell thousands of copies, even at eye watering prices. Because, you know, eye watering fumes.

        • 0 avatar
          HotPotato

          Yep. Those short-haul port shipping companies initially used an independent-contractor scam. Drivers had to buy their own trucks, and pay was crap. So to make a buck, drivers had to buy the cheapest trucks out there, generally filthy pre-emissions control rigs that had been retired from any self-respecting trucking company’s fleet years ago.

          Eventually the port of LA required trucking companies to run modern, clean-burning trucks and hire drivers as employees. They complied with the truck part, but somehow scammed their way out of the “employee” part. Today they once again classify drivers as independent contractors even though they’re under the sole contractual control of the company’s dispatcher, and trap them in lease-purchase agreements for these very expensive modern trucks. If a driver’s mom gets sick and he has to take a day off, he’s immediately falling behind on payments. If something on the truck breaks and needs repairing, that can easily be 10 grand, at the driver’s expense. There are guys driving 20 hours a day and at the end of the day they owe the company money instead of the other way around. Trucks are leased, repossessed, leased to the next sucker. It’s buy-here-pay-here meets indentured servitude.

          Incidentally, when the companies whose goods are moved by this system were informed by an LA Times reporter how it actually works, from Target to high-end brands, not one of them lifted a finger. With one exception: Goodyear launched an investigation, confirmed the story, consulted their lawyers, and had the contract with the scumbag trucking company terminated and replaced within two weeks. Makes me want to buy a set of Goodyears next time I need tires.

      • 0 avatar
        RS

        Won’t those short haul day cabs will have to grow in size for all those batteries? Would be good if they can get it done without making the tractor too big.

  • avatar
    vvk

    It occurs to me that the tractor trailer equation has two variables: the tractor and the trailer. You can have the batteries/charging be part of the trailer variable and the motor/driving be part of the tractor variable. Drive 200-300 miles to the next charger, leave the trailer to charge, hooks up another trailer that has already been charged and be on your way in under 15 minutes. Seems like a good system, assuming your are saving 80% on fuel. No?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      That’s an interesting logistics problem…. Kind of like a “packet switched” (seemingly a token ring like topology, for those who are nerdy enough to care…) container network. Sufficiently optimized, It could possibly be just as efficient in the real world as the current one, which more closely resembles a traditional circuit switched pots one.

      One big stumbling block, is that containers are often loaded on the assumption of a fairly standard trailer weight. If the trailer also needs to carry batteries on top of that, either road upgrades needs to be done (fat chance….), or containers needs to be lighter. Of course, with cars/trucks representing an ever increasing share of battery usage, maybe the Gigafactory can purpose build batteries that are in and of themselves load bearing structures…. :)

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      There’s a lot of unused space below the trailer, too. A heck of a lot of battery could fit in there.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    The larger the rig, the bigger the battery. And so the longer it takes to recharge the battery, and the more dead weight that battery represents when it’s less than half full.

    I support EV tech- I must, because I just bought a plug-in hybrid — but I don’t think this scales up this far. And current over-the-road trucks use diesel in its most efficient, steady-speed use case. I’d rather see Tesla repower local delivery trucks that make shorter, more predictable routes in urban areas, returning to central points.

  • avatar
    mriach77

    Keywords:

    “We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there”

    RIP Jerry Reed

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    FWIW I just read in a trade pub today that the Tesla domo on this project is a guy who came from Daimler Freightliner, so he likely knows a bit about trucks.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    “And it’s all that burned fuel that makes the concept of an electric tractor-trailer so appetizing to the trucking industry.”

    Because batteries and electricity are basically free, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Yurpean

      They aren’t but it’s much cheaper. Stomp your feet as much as you want but business will always go for the cheaper and more efficient option.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Some things are more expensive to buy and cheaper to run.

        Business can be more sophisticated about this than individuals, but they often aren’t. Because businesses are run by people, and many people are innumerate.

        Competition is supposed to take care of that problem, and it often does in the long term. But short and medium term are messier and more like real life than like Econ 101.

        • 0 avatar
          Yurpean

          That’s what controllers and accountants are for. You knoe, this is not rocket science.

        • 0 avatar
          HotPotato

          Yep. Trucking companies run diesel instead of gasoline because diesel powertrains are cheaper to run, even though they cost a whole lot more up front. I see no reason they couldn’t make the same calculation with an EV powertrain.

          There’s one caveat though: because downtime is so expensive, commercial operators can be extremely conservative about adopting new technology. Years ago, studies showed that automatic transmissions ended up being more cost-effective than manuals in motorcoaches, yet it still took Greyhound years to make the switch. Or look at the freight carriers’ rush to buy semis in the last model year before DDEC-type electronic engine controls became mandatory, even though the new engines would be more efficient, due to fear that they might break down and nobody would have the knowledge or parts to fix them promptly.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    Fools and bairns should never see half-done work.

  • avatar
    W210Driver

    Electric trucks are ideal for urban deliveries where their short range is not too much of an issue.

    For cross-country deliveries nothing beats a diesel truck. There is such a thing as clean diesel – European trucks have demonstrated this in tests which have shown that they are cleaner than many diesel-powered cars (of the Euro4/5 class). Urea is the solution.

    The current anti-diesel hysteria and panic is almost comedic.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      VW sold me a “clean diesel” Jetta TDI once. It was a beautiful car and I loved it.

      I was an advocate for clean diesel at the time. But VW tricked me.

      “Clean diesel” and “German engineering” are both slogans that have let me down.

      Especially since half of the diesel pickup trucks I follow tend to smell like a portable oil refinery, because rolling coal “ain’t harmin’ nobody”.

      I agree it’s possible to build good diesel engines, and that they have worthwhile applications. But it’s gonna take more than slogans to convince me that any particular engine in any particular truck is actually a well-built and properly maintained diesel engine which produces minimal pollution.

  • avatar
    Yurpean

    Besides the usual ideological blinds many seem to fall into a trap I fell into when I helf the first iPad and concluded that it’s too heavy and too bulky. It will never ever reach broad adoption!

    What I completely failed to realize was the built in asshmption of technology improvement: smaller electronics, better batteries, thinner screens. The iPad 2 made me look like a fool.

    Tesla is going after the short range market, most likely combined with autonomous driving. Port to distribution center and back. Distribution center to local grocery stores and back. I just saw Bloomber post on Twitter that autonomous electric trucks have only 8-9% of the operational costs of human driven diesel trucks. If that is true, and there is little reason to doubt it, then they won’t be able to meet demand.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      AFAIK, there is no corollary to “Moore’s Law” WRT to batteries; i.e. every 18 months batteries will be capable of storing twice as much energy, in half the size and weight, with half the recharge time requirement as the previous generation. Or did I miss something?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @carguy67: True, there is no Moore’s Law wrt batteries. Although we’d like it if there was.

        However, to be successful, EVs don’t need a “Moore’s Law”. They just need to be incrementally good enough to solve certain problems in certain sectors.

      • 0 avatar
        Yurpean

        No there isn’t but battery tech R&D isn’t even close to semiconductor R&D. Yet we are seeing improvements, even if it’s incremental.

        Don’t forget, 14% improvements year over year means doubling in 5 years. In other words, 500-600 mile range. This covers everything but the longest distances.

        Something else that I am wondering about is if we are all stuck assuming transport and logistics companies aren’t already planning a major shakeup of how things are done. Today, trucks are limited by the driver’s work hours. Once the trucks are autonomous, logistics companies will send them around like drones, all operated by centralized software. Recharging and battery swaps at major nodes such a disti centers and depots.

        Once the biggest financial and logistical restraint, the human driver is removed, the way goods are transported will change dramatically.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      “then they won’t be able to meet demand.”

      Just one more reason to buy Tesla stock and become wealthy!

      • 0 avatar
        Yurpean

        Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think I’m qualified to make a prediction.

        Elon’s a weird guy for sure but let’s not forget he already shook up the rocket and orbital delivery business. While he was running Tesla. Say what you will but rockets landing on drone ships is damn impressive.

    • 0 avatar
      AVT

      Under current commercial driving law, autonomous driving wont be viable/legal in the U.S. for any commercial vehicle. I highly doubt that will change anytime soon.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Message to Elon Musk,
    For a long haul heavy truck, electric motor + fuel cell + liquid H2 = long range, pollution free service. Can’t say about the economics.
    Batteries are too heavy and have too small of a storage capacity.

  • avatar
    Joss

    +1 big cities will likely mandate EV busses & trucks. They can run on designated commercial lanes picking up charge.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Like this electric (or whatever) bus?

      https://www.newflyer.com/buses/zero-emissions/xcelsior-electric-bus

      They’ll build you one, if you write a check.

      My town has invested in hybrid buses, so it’ll be 12 years or so until our next round of replacements. They’ll give electric buses a fair evaluation as they approach that interval.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Good link, Luke. Lengths up to 60 feet (that would be an articulated “bendy bus,” presumably) and batteries up to 480kWH. Holy crap.

        Joss, I like the idea of inductive charging capability, like San Francisco’s Muni trolley buses minus the pantograph and overhead wires. But I think something like Proterra’s overhead fast-charger stops might be more practical: https://www.proterra.com/technology/chargers/

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Shady scum bag Elon fails yet again. Its awesome to watch him fail over and over.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I’m wondering why he doesn’t go after the urban market first. Delivery trucks and buses. Which would regenerate much of their battery charge every time they slow or brake. The problem is different and more difficult for highway trucks that have to continuously overcome wind resistance. A lot could be done to streamline highway trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Agreed. I guess the wild card is that Tesla’s expensive models (i.e. all Teslas except the Model 3) use an AC induction motor, which unlike other EV motors is apparently more efficient on the highway.

  • avatar
    soberD

    There’s a whole lot of trucking going on in and around major cities, where this might actually work.

    But no price information. The conversation starts and stops with ROI on these things.

  • avatar
    hurricanehole

    I’d agree with the comment we have to start somewhere. I’m not a trucker and not blaming them for anything and certainly hope they keep their jobs since there’s not that many decent paying ones around. Everytime time I”m walking around and get bombed by diesel fumes it would be better if that was an battery powered truck. As a former owner of a turbo diesel Mercedes and the rare VW diesel pickup I use to be a diesel fan. I wonder if the naysayers come up with the optimal solution to their projects first time around.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    Real world req’s make 200-300 mile range a bigger problem than it seems.

    If you own a trucking firm sure some of your 1-way trips are 100 mile or less, but not all. So you end up with two kinds of trucks (can go any distance, can go limited distance) and you have less operational flexibility.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with EV’s is not range, but long refueling time. To get a battery *fully* recharged takes many hours. An IC truck can operate pretty much 254/7 with short re-fueling (changing drivers if needed) but and EV has to sit idle. Time is money, and much time is much money. As a side note the supercharger recharge times are misleading as they are usually just for *partial* recharges. On a long trip you end up either taking many hours for a full charge or getting a quicker partial charge, so you end up with more like 150 miles than 250 miles.

    All ranges quoted are typical so you have to allow sig safety factor. A diesel out of gas you send a truck with a tank, a out of charge EV semi would be like a beached whale.

    Certainly you can get lower cost/mile for EV vs diesel for fuel expense. This would seem like an area where an interchangeable battery would be big plus (Tesla messed with the this tech, but seems to have abandoned it. It pretty much looks like they were just chasing a regulatory loophole).

  • avatar
    AVT

    The real question will be what is the entry cost to acquire in the first place. Long term operating costs don’t mean anything if the difference at the end of the day doesn’t show value over that of a tradition diesel semi because some insane amount of daily driver miles are required in order to break even. Given that unlike a diesel, recharge times will impact not only that time period, but also cost in terms of storage, upkeep, and of the course, the unknown amount of the time the batteries can actually maintain that range, I don’t see it taking off unless a few things happen. Government will have to subsidize the intial buy in price, which will only make it attractive until the subsidies run out. Second, they will have to prove long term reliability which won’t happen over night. Finally, the proof that long term, money is saved versus a traditional semi, which will require a decent data pool before people jump on board. I’m not holding my breath for a runaway success. As of right now, I view this as going the same way of the tesla roadster. Unique, but not a mass market item.

  • avatar
    RS

    Even if they get a small portion of the trucking market, it will be interesting to see how battery production will scale. It will take a lot of lithium with current battery design. I don’t see how this scales economically without a new battery design using more available resources.

    And what happens when all this extra power is pulled through the grid? …assuming it is available.

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