The dawn of autonomous vehicles has set the trucking and distribution industries abuzz. And now a new technology is about to hit the scene, one with the potential to slash the practical and environmental costs of hauling freight: the electric semi.
A Big Announcement
In November of 2017, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced specs for the company’s electric semi. The numbers were impressive: a range of up to 500 miles, the ability to haul a 40-ton trailer, and enough power to go from 0 to 60 in twenty seconds…while hauling a full trailer.
Before Musk’s announcement, industry watchers worried about the cost of the company’s electric semi. Some analysts predicted the price tag would be between $300,000 to $400,000.
But Musk allayed these fears by announcing a price of $180,000 for the 500-mile version of the vehicle. (However, this is still more than the cost of the average conventional diesel truck, which starts at about $150,000).
Another interesting feature: publicity photos of the Tesla Semi showed a vehicle without side mirrors. That’s because Tesla is reportedly developing a camera system that will give truck drivers a better view of the road around them than conventional mirrors.
Distribution Industry Buzz
The Tesla Semi announcement was enough to intrigue some of the biggest distribution companies in the country, and around the world.
Barely one month after Musk’s announcement, the biggest players in the distribution market placed orders for the following number of electric semis:
- UPS: 125
- DHL: 10
- PepsiCo: 100
- Anheuser-Busch: 40
- Sysco: 50
- Wal-Mart: 15
- Bee’ah (a United Arab Emirates waste-hauling company): 50
These small orders signal that businesses are still only interested in testing the potential of the electric semi, rather than fully committing to the new technology. But these early orders are still impressive considering that the vehicle won’t be available until 2019…at the earliest.
When these companies receive their new Tesla Semis, most will likely start their tests in the state of Nevada. That’s because Tesla’s battery factory is there. And Nevada state laws are friendly toward semi-truck experimentation on public highways.
Freight distribution hubs are also spaced out in the state in such a way that the 300- to 550-mile battery range won’t cause testers too much of a headache.
But for the electric semi market to really take off, Tesla and other companies championing the technology still have to solve the battery-range problem. That’s because long-haul truckers often travel more than 600 miles per day.
Still, the lack of a coast-to-coast service network is Tesla’s biggest hurdle in getting its electric semis fully up and running across the country.
During the November 2017 press conference, Musk said the company would be installing a global network of solar-powered “megachargers” capable of recharging a truck’s batteries in 30 minutes to a capacity of 400 miles.
However, some industry professionals are expressing skepticism. An analyst with investment bank Jeffries Group doubts the company’s claims because Tesla hasn’t released specifics about battery longevity and battery replacement costs.
And a Bloomberg L.P. report purported that current Tesla battery charging times, range per charge, and costs aren’t realistic.
In addition, senior vice president of the trucking and logistics firm Daseke said his company isn’t ready for electric semis yet due to the lack of charging infrastructure. This includes a maintenance and repair network capable of supporting long-haul trucks.
But despite these concerns, the Tesla Semi has already hit the streets. On January 17, Youtube user Brandon Camargo posted a video of the Tesla Semi traveling through a neighborhood in Santa Clara, CA.
Despite the design of the prototype, this truck has side mirrors – probably because they’re required by California law.
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