The recently launched Tesla Semi is an emissions-free fully electric class 8 truck that is far less expensive to operate than comparable diesel-powered trucks. The Semi consumes less than 2 kilowatt-hours per mile and uses no fossil fuels resulting in significantly reduced operating costs. Tesla claims the savings could amount to more than $200,000 per vehicle in fuel costs for every million miles on the road.
As reported in the New York Times the cost to run the vehicle is just $1.26 a mile compared to $1.51 for a diesel. When operating in a convey to reduce drag the price goes down to 85 cents per mile making it a cheaper method of transporting goods than rail. According to CNBC, the Tesla Semi could save a company at least $25,000 a year per truck.
In addition to the 25-cents-per-mile saving. There are also saving on maintenance as the Tesla has no driveshaft, transmission, or combustion engine. Taken together these factors have prompted Tesla CEO Elon Musk to say that using diesel trucks is now “economic suicide”.
Musk is a sustainability titan who is on a mission to replace dirty energy with clean electric power sources. The Semi has a range of 500 miles and it’s regenerative braking system recovers 98 percent of the kinetic energy to charge the battery while operating. It is also much faster than conventional diesel trucks. According to Tesla, the Semi can go from zero to 60 MPH in five seconds without a trailer, compared to 15 seconds for a comparable diesel truck. A fully loaded truck can go from 0 to 60 MPH in 20 seconds. This is also much faster than comparable diesel trucks and it is also faster going up hills.
The Semi is easy to drive as it has no gears and it can be recharged in as little as a half an hour. It can carry up to 80,000 pounds of cargo which is the maximum weight allowed under federal highway regulations. One of the features that make this vehicle stand out is Tesla’s integrated Auto Pilot semi-autonomous driving aids that help drivers with braking, acceleration, lane positioning and obstacle avoidance.
In addition to the automated driving assist, Tesla claims the Semi, “safely integrates with passenger car traffic”. Other safety features include a design that makes jackknifing “impossible” and a “thermonuclear explosion-proof glass” in the windshield.
The truck’s huge battery is efficiently integrated into the Semi’s chassis providing a lower center of gravity. The truck has four motors, one for each of its rear wheels. The single-seat center-mounted driver’s cockpit is closer to the road than conventional trucks and it has two large screens comprising the truck’s dashboard.
Production is scheduled to start in 2019 although several companies including WalMart, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, and Loblaws have already preordered.
Tesla has no shortage of detractors who point to the fact that it will be expensive to buy and has half the range of a diesel truck. There are also valid concerns about the company’s capacity to meet demand. Tesla has a back order of half a million Model 3 sedans and production has not come close to the 1,500 it had promised in August. Still, others point to the $671 million loss for the last quarter. Going forward there are many who say that Tesla could get hit hard if the Trump administration succeeds in killing the tax credit for electric vehicle buyers.
Despite these concerns, the emissions-free Tesla Semi is less expensive to operate, safer and faster than diesel trucks. This revolutionary vehicle is poised to disrupt the shipping industry. As stated by Musk, the Semi, “will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension”.
The market demand for electric trucks is growing as companies are increasingly interested in electrifying their fleets, some have even committed to fully electric transport. Further evidence comes from the number of companies working on their own electric trucks and self-driving transport vehicles. In August Cummins, a leading maker of diesel and natural gas engines for commercial trucks unveiled a heavy duty cab called AEOS. Daimler AG has already delivered electric tractor trailers to the United Parcel Service (UPS). Embark is already using self-driving trucks.
A strong competitor is the Nikola One made by Nikola Motors. This electric hydrogen long-range truck has a 320 kW battery pack, capable of getting up to 1,200 miles on a full charge when coupled with a methane range extender. The company already has more than 7,000 reservations totaling more than 2.3 billion dollars.
Sales of electric trucks could be slowed by technologies that retrofit existing diesel trucks. Pittsburgh-based Hyliion introduced a patented system to convert diesel trucks into hybrids. This could reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 30 percent. The company already has preorders worth $20 million.
Other companies that are developing their own electric trucks include, Eaton, Nikola, and Volkswagen. However, none of these prototypes have the performance and emissions-free characteristics of the Semi. To see a side by side comparison of some of the leading electric truck designs click here.
The Tesla Semi may well offer us a glimpse into the future of truck transportation and an early example of the kind of vehicle that will revolutionize the global trucking industry.
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