Tesla Semi: the planet is ready

11 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineNovember 17, 2017

NZ Trucking magazine and Channel 9, Australia are the only media from Australasia invited to the hotly anticipated launch of Tesla‘s electric semi-truck this evening at the Jet Center Los Angeles at Hawthorne Municipal Airport.

There are 65 media present representatives from around the world waiting to hear Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveil what could be the greatest development for trucking technology in decades, in a world set on reduced emissions, more power on renewable energy and luscious, techy looks along with comfortable, easy driving in style.

Musk will provide answers to those questions at 8pm this evening, USA time; that‘s 5pm NZ time. We expect to have some snippets before then and will keep you posted.

Lunch at the Tesla launch – everyone’s more interested in the truck

Tesla Semi: the planet is ready. By NZ Trucking

Matt Smith of NZ Trucking was excited as a kid in his Dad‘s driving seat to be among those picked to welcome the new concept Tesla Semi at the Jet Center, Los Angeles at Hawthorne Municipal Airport on 16 November. He even got to sit in the cab – and walk around in it.

New Zealand motorists are already embracing the quietness of electric cars and perhaps in five years‘ time it will be the norm to see – but not hear – electric trucks on the road. If that‘s the case, the new electric Tesla Semi is among the first in the world to eschew fossil fuel for generated energy.

The electric Tesla Semi promises a very different truck-driving experience but to make that giant leap for trucking kind, the Tesla has to do a lot more. It‘s not enough to be clean and green. It‘s got to have power to match any diesel equivalent; to be lighter, faster and with greater range – so Tesla has crunched the numbers to show how Tesla electric stacks up against a diesel-powered truck of similar size.

Without a trailer, Tesla claims, its Tesla Semi achieves 0-60 mph in five seconds, compared to 15 seconds in a comparable diesel truck. It does 0-60 mph in 20 seconds with a full 80,000-pound load, a task that takes a diesel truck about a minute.

That‘s on the flat. Tesla claims the Tesla Semi will climb 5 per cent grades at a steady 65mph, whereas a diesel truck maxes out at 45mph on a 5 per cent grade – that‘s not only good news for the freight contractor, but for other cars on the road who don‘t want to be stuck behind a slow-moving transporter.

Adding to the performance on hills, the Tesla Semi requires no shifting or clutching for smooth acceleration and deceleration, and its regenerative braking recovers 98 per cent of kinetic energy to the battery, giving it a basically infinite brake life. Overall, Tesla claims, the Semi is more responsive, covers more miles than a diesel truck in the same amount of time, and more safely integrates with passenger car traffic.

In this electronic age of machine anticipating man, the Tesla Semi has got to be totally intuitive to driving needs – but without being intrusive and continually butting in like a well-intentioned friend.

The Tesla Semi‘s all-electric architecture claims a higher safety standard than any other heavy-duty truck on the market, with a reinforced battery that shields the Semi from impact and gives it an exceptionally low centre of gravity. Its windshield is made of impact resistant glass. Jackknifing is prevented due to the Semi’s onboard sensors that detect instability and react with positive or negative torque to each wheel while independently actuating all brakes. The surround cameras aid object detection and minimise blind spots, automatically alerting the driver to safety hazards and obstacles. With Enhanced Autopilot, the Tesla Semi features Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping and Lane Departure Warning.

Two touchscreen displays positioned symmetrically either side of the driver provide easy access to navigation, blind spot monitoring and electronic data logging. Built-in connectivity integrates directly with a fleet‘s management system to support routing and scheduling, and remote monitoring. Most modern diesel trucks can do this too, but it generally takes several third party devices to achieve it.

Tesla says driver comfort – which equates directly to safety and alertness – were given high priority in configuring its new electric flagship, so getting aboard is easy. Just three steps into the cab, which is relatively low compared with most diesels of similar size, and the driver is ready to take his centrally placed seat for optimum visibility. There is full standing room inside with unobstructed stairs for easier entry and exit.


Semi Front

An area where diesel usually claims to outshine electric power is vehicle range – how far will it go before running out of amps? Tesla has a new high-speed DC charging system which adds about 400 miles range in 30 minutes. The truck can take this onboard at origin or destination points and along heavily trafficked routes, enabling recharging during loading, unloading and driver breaks. So what happens if five trucks need to charge up at the same time? We suppose that by then the world of electric transport will have adapted and we‘ll see trucks lined up at charging stations, just like iphones at a truckies‘ convention.

All of this is quite wonderful but for New Zealand operators to adopt the Tesla technology in big numbers, it‘s got to deliver the savings the industry has come to expect from going electric. The general equation is that efficient, long-range, hi-tech and fast-charging electric technology costs a lot more than its conventionally-fuelled counterpart upfront, but the savings thereafter make it all look rosy at year-end.

So what is that magic figure – the capital cost?

We don‘t know. Sorry.

But Tesla is happy to talk about the savings – which tends to imply the capital costs are big. We can tell you that a down payment of US$5000 will secure you a truck for 2019 – at least in the USA.

The biggest immediate cost-advantage comes from savings in energy costs: fully loaded, the Tesla Semi consumes less than two kilowatt-hours of energy per mile and is capable of 300 miles of range for the Day Cab and 500 miles for the Sleeper. Together, these accommodate a wide range of shipping applications, especially for distances of, say, fewer than 250 miles.

In the United States, claims Tesla, the low and stable nature of electricity prices, especially for forward-thinking companies which have solar generation, owners can expect to gain $200,000 or more in savings in fuel costs over a million miles. However the United States example may not transfer to similar savings in the New Zealand electricity market.

Semi Interior

So how about that other big cost factor – maintenance? With far fewer moving parts than a diesel truck – no engine, transmission, after-treatment system or differentials to upkeep – the Tesla Semi requires significantly less maintenance. Its battery is similar in composition to the batteries of Tesla energy products and is designed to support repeated charging cycles for more than a million miles. Its motors are derived from the motors used in Model 3 and have been validated to last more than one million miles under demanding conditions.

In summary, Tesla claims its Semi will deliver an improved experience for truck drivers, while increasing safety and significantly reducing the cost of cargo transport.

Tesla Semi Sleeper and Day Cab