Tesla delivers first production semis to Pepsi
In November 2017, Tesla announced that it was joining the trucking industry. Debuting its new semi truck concept then, over the last five years, Tesla has worked to bring the concept to life. Originally slated to go into production in 2019, numerous delays have pushed the debut back. Now, it finally has.
Pepsi first placed their order for their Tesla semis back in 2017, when they were first debuted. In fact, Pepsi was one of the first companies to support the Tesla semi and commit to it. Now, they are finally getting their hands on it.
Not only that, but it’s even done a cargo run already! The Tesla semi was used to ship a load of Frito-Lay chips to the Tesla semi unveiling event earlier this month.
Elon Musk has said he wants the Tesla semi on the road to help fight global greenhouse gas emissions. This is laudable. But it’s also Elon Musk. So let’s talk about Tesla’s semi truck and what it means for trucking moving forward, as well as what it might mean for auto transporters as we delve deeper into the 21st century.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 6, 2022
Recapping the Tesla Semi
The Tesla semi, when first introduced by Elon Musk, was said to have a 500 mile range. In 2017 this was an impressive feat, considering where electric vehicle technology was. Of course, Musk then said a bit later that it could go up to 600 miles on a single charge.
But then, in late November 2022, Musk tweeted out that the Tesla semi had completed a 500 mile trip with a semi grossing 81,000 pounds on a single charge. If that tweet is true, Tesla has a real game-changer on their hands.
Not only did Musk say the semi could get 500 miles on a charge, but it also uses “less than” 2kwh of battery power per mile. This puts Tesla’s semi on par with the Volvo VNR Electric and the Freightliner eCascadia, and lower than both Peterbilt and Kenworth’s electric semis.
The Tesla semi has also been tested in numerous conditions – “every type of environment” according to Musk. This includes grades as high as 6%, such as Donner Pass, though this road is not used by as many trucks as I-80 which goes through Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevadas.
Regardless, the Tesla semi – if these claims and numbers are true – is situating itself to be one of the main competitors for other, more established truck builders such as Peterbilt.
More specs about the Tesla semi
Musk has come out with some of the specs for the Tesla semi as well, but little is truly confirmed. He has said that the trucks are running 24/7 between Sparks and Tahoe, Nevada, moving goods between plants and suppliers.
He has also said that the semi uses a tri-motor powertrain system. They are taken from the Model S and the Model X powertrains, but the semi allows two of the power units to disconnect. This means that they will not be free-spinning while the truck is traveling at full power. The other units would be used for reserve power, primarily for torque and acceleration.
According to Musk, the semi can pull 82,000 pounds at cruising speed using just one motor on one axle. This would make it much more powerful than a regular diesel semi truck. The semi also boasts regenerative braking that will deliver energy back into the batteries.
Musk did not answer questions about price point, available configurations, customizability, Tesla’s autopilot system, or how long charging would take.
What do trucking companies think of the Tesla semi?
As of now, it’s highly unlikely that the Tesla semi is going to displace much of the market share enjoyed by other manufacturers. While the semi has been delivered to PepsiCo, marking its official foray into the trucking sphere, Tesla has a long way to go before it’s the king of the road.
But it’s not inconceivable, either. Tesla vehicles are quite popular with the American people, after all. A big question truckers have is how long it will take to charge the batteries.
Right now, the semi is supposed to get 500 miles on a single charge. Tesla has supposedly proven that, so we’ll jot that down as true. But how long will it take to recover that mileage and get back on the road?
Tesla’s website says the semi can recover up to 70% of its range after charging just 30 minutes. That’s impressive if it’s true. Most over-the-road truck drivers can travel 400-500 miles per day. This means that they could stop for the night, recharge, and not have to worry about refueling until they stop at their next truck stop.
Is the infrastructure for the Tesla semi there?
A big question is the charging infrastructure available right now. There are a lot of electric car charging stations out there, but not as many as one would think. And it’s not like semi trucks can pull up to a charging station outside a grocery store to refuel.
These semi trucks are as big as any others on the road. So they’ll need to refuel at stations that can accommodate their large size. Many truck stops, such as Pilot Flying J, are working on getting electric charging infrastructure in place, but the rollout has been slow.
Truckers adapt to change slowly over time, so this isn’t surprising. Now that the semi is out on the road, though, it may be time for truck stop owners to start adding electric charging stations en masse in order to meet the incoming demand. But until those are there, truckers may shy away from all-electric trucks, fearing they will be unable to refuel on their preferred routes.
That said, though, if there are enough places for them to refuel – and they don’t take them far off their established routes – it’s possible that trucking companies start making the switch.
What about the price of the Tesla semi?
This is another tricky hurdle that Tesla has to overcome if they want to see their trucks moving freight to American stores. In 2017, Elon Musk came out and said the Tesla semi would cost about $200,000 – a bit steep, but still within many trucking companies’ budgets.
Now, though, five years later, who knows what the price will be? Musk has been mum on the subject as of late, so we’re unsure what the price point will be. We also do not know what features will be included and what packages are available (or what they’ll cost).
Between the uncertainty of charging infrastructure and the uncertainty of the total cost of a semi, trucking companies aren’t chomping at the bit as much as one might think. This isn’t too surprising; they want to wait and see if it’ll be economically feasible for them to start running Tesla semis instead of traditional diesel trucks.
Tesla claims owners can save up to $200,000 over three years just on refueling costs. That’s a lot of money. Is it true, though? Until we have more data, we’re not sure, but it is feasible.
Is this the future of auto transport?
Let’s talk about Tesla’s semi and how it might affect the auto shipping industry. Auto transport is just like any other trucking industry in the problems that it faces and the challenges it must overcome.
They have to pay for fuel, truck maintenance, employee wages, taxes, all that good stuff, just like any other trucking company. They have to compete for jobs and bid on contracts just like any other. So it stands to reason that, if an auto shipper can save money, they’ll save money.
Could the Tesla semi be the future of auto transport? It’s possible. If not the Tesla itself, then at least electric trucks will be.
At this point, moving away from diesel as we know it is inevitable. There are a number of options that have been bandied about for decades now, including biodiesel, hydrogen, electric, and more. As it stands now, electric vehicles have taken over as the alternative energy vehicle of choice. And it likely will stay that way as the years drag on.
Auto transporters have a lot of benefits ahead of them if they switch to all-electric trucks. Fuel savings are the number one, of course. A range of 500 miles on an electric truck is enticing as well. Being able to charge up overnight (or during the day, if they do night runs) and not having to stop while they’re driving is big.
The price, however, may stop some of the smaller companies from implementing them. That’s an issue that will resolve itself with time, however.
This writer believes that all-electric trucks are indeed the future of the auto shipping industry and for trucking in general. The change will be slow, but you can expect to see more cars being hauled by all-electric trucks in the next few years.