Head of the Class 8? With Its Semi, Tesla Promises a Trucking Alternative

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
head of the class 8 with its semi tesla promises a trucking alternative

Even though a next-generation Tesla Roadster unexpectedly rolled out of the back of one, it was still beyond weird to see the world’s automotive press converging on a California warehouse for the reveal of a big rig on Thursday night. But this is the scene we’ve grown accustomed to when something occurs in the Tesla universe.

The delayed reveal of the automaker’s electric semi truck, which surely has the Tesla fan base downloading C.W. McCall’s Convoy on Spotify this morning, is a proposition to trucking companies. Buy this Class 8 transport and save.

The Semi’s specifications are straightforward, even if the economics surrounding the vehicle are not. For a currently undisclosed price, Tesla plans to sell a day cab semi-trailer with a gross vehicle weight rating of 80,000 pounds, with power provided by four Model 3 motors.

Up front, a center-seated driver cocooned in carbon fiber panels monitors the vehicle (and the blind spots) through two display screens mounted to his or her left and right. An Enhanced Autopilot system would handle lane-keeping duties and apply the brakes if needed. From this perch, a driver can pilot the truck for 300 or 500 miles, depending on variant, then dump 400 miles into the massive under-cab battery pack via a 30-minute charge courtesy of the currently hypothetical Megacharger network.

According to the American Transportation Research Institute, 62 percent of U.S. pickups and deliveries fall within the longer-ranged model’s range.

Wowing the assembled journos and Teslarati, company CEO Elon Musk touted the truck’s scorching acceleration times — hardly top of mind for fleet operators, but this is Tesla, after all. The company claims a 0-60 mph time of five seconds for an unburdened rig, or 20 seconds hauling a trailer bursting at the seams. On a 5-percent grade, Tesla says the Semi can maintain 65 mph.

Speed is nice, but cost is key for any operator. And unpacking the Semi’s economics proved difficult. The operational cost figure tossed out by Tesla is $1.26 per mile, with rival diesel models pegged at $1.51. Chalk up the difference to reduced fuel costs (Tesla claims a $200,000 fuel savings over the life of the vehicle, which is guaranteed for 1 million miles), plus reduced maintenance. As the model employs regenerative braking, Musk touted the Semi’s brake pads as having a “quasi-infinite lifespan.”

TTAC’s own Bozi Tatarevic takes issue with Tesla’s math, claiming that maintenance costs would need to fall nearly to nearly zero in order to reach the stated operational costs. Of course, the model’s mysterious price doesn’t help the calculations.

“Average maintenance cost for diesel trucks is around $0.166 now and considering how Tesla runs parts and service, I am hard pressed to believe that they can reduce that to $0.03 or so,” Tatarevic said in a Twitter post (one of many that raised the ire of the Tesla fan base).

So, are you interested? If so, be prepared to wait until 2019 for production to begin, but the company will take your $5,000 reservation now. According to the terms and conditions of those reservations, “the timing of your order may depend on development, manufacturing and production schedules, among other factors.”

Given that the company’s main focus right now is clearing assembly and supply hurdles for the Model 3 sedan — which recently saw its production ramp-up pushed back by a quarter of a year — you might not want to set that calendar date in stone. No one knows where Tesla plans to build the thing, as its Fremont assembly plant won’t have the spare capacity after the company reaches its passenger car production goals. The company’s currently burning through all available cash to iron out issues delaying the ramp-up. (Maybe that’s where the $250,000 upfront price for the first 1,000 Roadsters comes in.)

As well, the Megacharger network exists only on paper. How the company plans to juggle all of these balls (and pay for them) at the same time remains a nagging question. Still, it won’t be a shock to see the automaker’s stock soar once trading opens this morning. That’s just how it goes in Teslaland.

[Images: Tesla]

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  • Yurpean Yurpean on Nov 18, 2017

    It seems many just reflectively diss Tesla because they want them to fail. Yet, those with money at stake seem to find this a lretty good idea and to me it’s fairly clear why: Most trucks travel between ports, distribution hubs, and warehouses. I am pretty sure the fleet managers, accountants, and controllers have a very good idea what their diesel costs are and how much they could save by generating their own fuel by plastering warehouse rooftops with solar panels. I also don’t get the recharge reasoning. A semi is not an uber where the “cargo” is loaded and unloaded in half a minute. Once a truck pulls up to a supermarket to unload, it stays there for quite a while. The panels on the market roof charge the truck and once emptied the tryck is fully charged.

    • See 1 previous
    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Nov 20, 2017

      @brandloyalty Some truckstops already have RV type electrical hookups so the driver doesn't have to idle to run all the electrical stuff in the cab during stops. This would be a natural extension.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Nov 21, 2017

    "Shore power" to run refrigeration units etc. Yep, they pack a lot of power.

  • George Who’s winning the UAW strike? Nobody.Who’s losing the UAW strike? Everybody.
  • Zznalg Now, a slam of Subaru. I own an Outback Wilderness. Subaru has capitulated to lawyers and the regulatory environment to render life with their vehicles quite unpleasant. A few cases in point: The vehicles won't allow you to drive one MPH without ALL the seatbelts fastened. You cannot pull a Subaru out of a garage or parking space with no seatbelt without the car screaming at you. First there is the annoying beeping. After a few seconds Subaru ups its game and raised the volume ridiculously. To get it to shut up, I've even had to turn off the car and open a door. It is not enough to put it into park. The beeping continues. I am Not talking about driving without a seatbelt. I'm talking about 1 MPH maneuvers in one's own driveway. Next, the car's auto-breaking is tuned to slow you down or even slam on your brakes at every possible opportunity. The other day, my Wilderness decided to do just that almost resulting in my being rear ended. For NO reason. Next, the Outback Wilderness' transmission is tuned to prevent forward motion. It does its best to NOT GIVE POWER in nearly every situation unless you keep the accelerator depressed for more than 1-3 seconds. This is actually unsafe. In fact at highway speeds, when one presses the gas, the car momentarily reduces power and slows down. The paddle shifters help. But overall, Subaru has so neutered the Outback Wilderness to make a potentially great vehicle quite a drag to own and actually unsafe, in the service seemingly of preventing lawsuits and satisfying the EPA. I know not all of this may apply to the Crosstrek Wilderness but if you test drive one, you would be advised to look for these flaws.
  • Undead Zed I'm not particularly interested in the truck, but do look forward to the puns that the marketing department may try to work into the adverts."Visit your local dealership and go for a Flash drive today."
  • Art_Vandelay UAW leadership always brings up CEO pay. Yet they never bring up that their last deal would likely have been better for membership had they not been on the take from those same CEO's. UAW members have far more beef with their own leadership than senior management of their companies.
  • IH_Fever Another day, more bloviating between the poor downtrodden union leeches and the corporate thieves. But at least pantsuit guy got a nice new shirt.