From our community:
Last night, AKALib wrote a diary liveblogging the reveal of the new Tesla Semi — but unfortunately it didn’t get the attention that it deserved. The importance of this vehicle — and how impressive it is — cannot be overstated. For years, as electric cars have steadily shown that they’re on a path to replacing gasoline vehicles, the oil market has fallen back on the fact that freight shipping will continue to underpin its consumption. This vehicle is a missile aimed straight at that notion.
Before the release of the Semi, leaks had suggested that it would be capable of trips of 200-300 miles. One report just a few days ago suggested 300-450 miles. The actuality blows away these expectations: the initial launch (with more variants to come) is a 500 mile-range day cab. That’s 500 miles at highway speed with 40 tonnes gross weight (maximum allowable on US roads). The range without a trailer was not stated, but should be several times higher. According to the website, a shorter-range 300 mile variant will also be offered.
Oh, but it gets better. Tesla is famous for its supercharger network — often considered its ace in the hole against rivals. Most EVs that support DC “fast” charging don’t support more than 40-50kW and charge from CHAdeMO/CCS chargers that are scattered, on different networks, commonly one charger per site, and poorly monitored and maintained. By contrast, Teslas charge on a single global network of fairly evenly spaced charging stations, each with multiple chargers (minimum of 2 chargers / 4 stalls), up to dozens. They’re highly monitored, well maintained, and support charging currents of up to 120kW per vehicle — making road trips practical. The Model 3 LR, for example, can add 70-75 miles of range in 10 minutes of charging when below half a charge.
Tesla is now preparing to extend the Supercharging network to higher powers and larger vehicles (Semi) with new “Megachargers”. These chargers — with a guaranteed price of 7 cents per kilowatt hour (aka, immune to oil price fluctuations), and all with integrated solar+grid battery buffers at the stations — can surge charge Semi to an 80% charge in 30 minutes. To emphasize how impressive this is:
- Diesel semis today generally take 15 minutes to fill anyway
- The full range of this vehicle is about 7 hours of highway driving, meaning you need a break regardless. Indeed, in the EU it’s mandatory to have 45 minutes of breaks per 4,5 hours of driving.
- The chargers can be integrated into loading docks, so that it happens while loading and unloading.
Furthermore, 80% of road freight shipping today involves trips of 250 miles or less. This means that a Semi, without any charging infrastructure at all on the destination end, could serve 80% of US routes hauling a maximum payload both directions without recharging.
The crazy thing is that you may actually be able to deliver goods faster with Tesla Semi than a traditional diesel Semi, for one main reason — and that is the thing’s mind-blowing performance.
While a traditional diesel semi, without a trailer, may do 0-60 in 15- seconds, the Tesla Semi does it in 5 — an acceleration typical of an entry-level sports sedan. Fully loaded, Semi can accelerate to 60mph in 15-20 seconds (presentation and website differ), while a traditional diesel semi may take 45 seconds. While a traditional semi can only maintain 45mph while climbing a 5% grade, the Tesla Semi can maintain 65mph. This level of performance isn’t just about showing off; it has serious practical implementations on trip times, particularly in rough terrain (where the vehicle’s ability to regenerate on downslopes gives it an even bigger energy cost advantage over diesel)
Related to the power is the vehicle’s resiliency against failures. Tesla is offering a 1 million mile “zero breakdown” guarantee. Which may sound implausible until you remember: it’s powered by four separate motors. Even with two motors down it can still outperform a traditional diesel semi by large margins. This sort of “engine-out” capability is completely unheard of in the trucking world. It also boasts — via differential wheel throttling, since each drive wheel has its own motor — immunity to jackknifing.
Among the more unusual design decisions, the initial version forgoes 2-abreast seating and instead uses a spacious single-seat-up-front arrangement with an extensive glass cockpit. Dual screens are integrated with fleet management systems in addition to Tesla’s traditional remote control app. To reduce the risk of rock strike, Tesla has introduced a new “armor glass” which can take far heavier hits without shattering. This is no insignificant issue; a typical semi goes through one windscreen per year, and cannot legally drive when there is a crack until it gets repaired.
The lower cost of electricity versus diesel is a huge issue on its own; Tesla estimates (including amortization of the vehicle) 83% of the total operating costs for Tesla Semi versus a traditional diesel semi, and a 2 year payback period on the added costs of the electric tractor versus a diesel. However, that is just the start, as all Semis come with autopilot, and in particular a new feature they’re developing for it: platooning. In this, a single driver drives a fleet of vehicles which play “follow the leader”, tracking the same route it takes in addition to incorporating features such as automatic emergency braking, reacting to traffic that “cuts between” vehicles in the convoy, etc. This task — since all guidance ultimately comes from a human driver — is much simpler to implement than full self driving, but offers huge cost savings; the cost per mile drops to 57% of that of a traditional diesel semi, and lower than that of even shipping by train.
Not to be outdone by itself, however, Tesla stole its own thunder by having a new vehicle drive out of a Semi: the new Roadster 2.0.
If you thought 500 miles electric range is long, try 620 miles range. On a staggering 200kWh battery pack. The 2+2-seating convertible will be the fastest accelerating production car in the world (unless someone beats them to market), with a 1,9 second 0-60, a 4,2 second 0-100 and a 8,9 second quarter mile — in the base model. Continuing with the Spaceballs theme, rather than “Ludicrous Mode”, the vehicle’s peak acceleration mode is known as “Maximum Plaid”. Top speed is stated to be “at least 250mph”. Pricing has not been announced, but one can assume that with such a halo car, if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it ;) Unlike Semi — which is supposed to hit the market in 2019 — the Roadster isn’t expected to hit the market until 2020
While the Roadster isn’t going to be a car for the average person, it’s interesting to see the sort of technology that will eventually trickle down to the entry-level consumer: drive all day with bone-crunching performance, supercharge/megacharge, and then do it again. Semi, however, is a gamechanger. Fleet operators are driven all by the bottom line, and diesel costs hurt their bottom line. They’ll gladly pay a higher vehicle loan in order to reduce their burn in operational costs. Indeed, Semi was developed in close cooperation with existing fleet operators.
It’s been said that Tesla may face “competition”… but the reality is that, while one can hope that everyone will switch to electric to give Tesla a run for its money… so far there is nothing even resembling competition. “Electric semi trucks” have existed for ages; the Port of Los Angeles, for example, has been using them for hauling cargoes to and from ships. More recently, Cummins got a lot of press for “beating Tesla to the punch” with a semi announcement. But the differences are telling.
- 100 mile range vs. 500
- 1 hour charge time vs. 30 minutes
- Powertrain (needing buyin from other parties) vs. complete vehicle
- No existing battery or electric drivetrain manufacturing facilities vs. the world’s largest (scale is critical for keeping costs down)
But most critically:
- Prototype that relies on you believing that Cummins wants to go large-scale on electric trucks.
The latter point has often been the sticking issue with “traditional automakers”. It’s easy to make small-scale prototypes that don’t have to be buildable at scale, don’t have to be profitable, don’t even have to meet regulations to be streetlegal. You can then make all the pronouncements in the world about how much you plan to do. But when it comes down to it, any investment they make in electric powertrains cannibalizes from their other vehicle sales. So they have incentive to sound like they’re making a big change, but relatively little incentive to actually do it. And it shows; economies of scale are critical to making electric vehicles competitive and profitable, but infrastructure is extremely expensive to build. Look at who is spending a billion dollars plus on EV-related manufacturing facilities per quarter if you want to see who plans to take the market seriously.
Tesla, as an electric vehicle manufacturer, lives and dies by EV economics. They have no incentive to make “for show only” prototypes; they must make EVs for a given market in order to get a share of that market. Those EVs must be made widely available instead of artificially constrained; they must put effort into selling them rather than discouraging their sale; and they must have a reasonable profit margin. Fundamentally, or Tesla dies.
But let’s see Cummins and others prove me wrong. Give Tesla some serious competition. The game is on, and the gauntlet is thrown down, and the prize is the entire trucking market.
Update: Best comments from the Tesla Motors Club during the Roadster unveil:
Base price: $200,000
One Kidney in the US: $262,000
I think I know how I'll afford this car
One kid doesn't need to go to college…
If it has a camper mode I’m selling my house.
Update 2: Aaaand the first Semi orders are already in (Meijer):
Tesla Seals Order From Michigan Grocery Chain for Semi Trucks
Update 3: And here comes JB Hunt with another order.
Update 4: 15 to Walmart...