Tesla has finally opened order books for its semi-electric truck after a long four-year wait hampered by battery cell supply constraints.
Having missed the opportunity to claim to be the first electric semi on the market, Tesla chose instead to emphasize the performance capabilities of the Tesla Semi.
Perhaps top of the list is its ability to accelerate from 0-60 mph (0-96.5 km/h) in 20 seconds, a feature Tesla has described as “badass.” It’s also thanks to a drag coefficient of 0.36 (the average truck-trailer combo is 6.08 according to this journal).
Four independent motors – all on the rear axle – allow speeds of 60 mph (96.5 km/h) up to a 5% grade. Tesla says the Semi’s power consumption is less than 2kWh per mile, which is equivalent to the average power used by about 8 Model 3s.
The Tesla Semi is available with two battery options. Although Tesla didn’t specify the power capacity, its website says the Semi can offer a range of 300 miles (482 km) or 500 miles (805 km).
These are specs that aren’t for the faint-hearted.
Just a few weeks ago, electric truck competitor Nikola opened orders for its battery-electric Tre. In comparison, it offers a top speed of 58 km/h up to a 6% gradient and up to 563 km of range thanks to its 753 kWh battery.
Other specs include a Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCWR) of 82,000 lb (37 tonnes). It has a 240kW load for a 120 min recharge time (20-80%) and a continuous power of 480kW.
However, Tesla did not provide key specs including GCWR, battery size or charging speed.
The price is not high
Perhaps surprisingly though, the Tesla Semi’s prices aren’t – as Tesla boss Elon Musk would put it – “high”.
The “expected base price” of $150,000 ($217,680 converted) is for the standard Semi range and $180,000 ($261,210 converted) for the extended range variant.
Nikola, on the other hand, did not state the expected price of the Tre, but only mentions a potential US$150,000 discount for California fleets through the state..
Tesla is asking for a reservation fee of US$20,000 (A$29,020). Interested parties are asked to deposit US$5,000 immediately and then arrange a wire transfer for the remainder within 10 days, plus an additional US$20,000 for each vehicle required.
Tesla claims that since half of a diesel semi’s operating costs are fuel, the Semi’s payback time is two years.
Of course, the Semi is only available in the US at the moment.
In Australia, New South Wales-based Janus Electric unveiled its prototype all-electric prime mover in April, featuring battery-swap technology for trucks already on the road.
With a range of around 400 km and a 630 kWh battery, it can be recharged in four hours. But it won’t need to do it on the fly once the company’s battery swapping stations are deployed on the East Coast.
Trucking on autopilot
But back to the Tesla Semi, which will undoubtedly capture the attention of fleets keen to reduce driver fatigue.
It comes with Tesla’s advanced driver assistance, Autopilot, which Tesla says will help avoid collisions. According to Tesla, additional benefits are the “centered driver position” offering “maximum visibility and control”.
He adds that the Semi’s “low center of gravity provides rollover protection.”
Tesla emphasizes that this is not self-driving and that drivers should remain alert at all times.
A minimalist dashboard filled with two screens is a world apart from traditional trucking cabs. This, combined with Autopilot and a largely vibration-free ride, will perhaps usher in a new era for the trucking industry.
It will be interesting to know if the Tesla Semi will be a game-changer for the industry. By 2030, the American Trucking Association estimated a shortage of 160,000 drivers in the United States in a 2021 report.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor of The Driven, sister site to Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018 and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emission transport must play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is a co-organizer of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and offers it for hire on evee.com.au.