Tesla expects electric ‘Semi’ to shake up heavy-vehicle market – Digital Journal


With its sleek design, the Tesla semi-electric has been highly anticipated since Musk unveiled a prototype in 2017, but the full-scale production rollout was delayed well beyond the initial 2019 expectation – Copyright AFP/File SUZANNE CORDEIRO

juliet michel

After years of delays, US automaker Tesla is expected to deliver its first battery-powered semi-truck on Thursday, hoping to jumpstart the nascent heavy-duty electric vehicle market by offering longer ranges without recharging.

The Elon Musk-led company plans to hand over the keys to its first electric truck, dubbed the “Semi”, at its Nevada manufacturing plant to multinational food company PepsiCo.

With its sleek design, the Tesla electric semi-truck has been highly anticipated since Musk unveiled a prototype in 2017, but the full-scale production rollout has been delayed well beyond the initial expectation of 2019.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers have entered the market, from traditional truckmakers like China’s Daimler, Volvo and BYD, to startups like US-based Nikola.

The competition has also started rolling out their deliveries and has many orders of its own waiting to be filled.

However, the truck that “the market has been waiting for…is Tesla’s,” says Dave Mullaney, transportation specialist at sustainability think tank RMI.

Legacy manufacturers have mostly converted their diesel-engineered vans to electric.

“Tesla, on the other hand, was designed to be electric from the first design,” says Mullaney, who also highlighted the company’s 15 years of experience in electric vehicles.

If the Tesla vehicle lives up to the hype, “it’s going to be a big difference,” Mullaney says.

In a tweet on Saturday, Musk said a Semi had driven 500 miles (800 kilometers) with a total weight of 81,000 pounds (nearly 37 tons).

The electric vehicles currently on offer only have a range of 250 to 300 miles.

– Physical limitations? –

To transport heavy loads over such long distances, the battery “must be very large; that makes it very heavy, takes up a lot of space and is very expensive,” says Mike Roeth, director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. NACFE).

“The industry has been wondering if it’s possible to physically pack that much battery” and keep the weight of the truck low enough to get the job done, Roeth adds.

With the ability to travel up to 500 miles without recharging, long-distance electric truck trips would be much more feasible, allowing drivers to return to depots within the same day.

Even longer trips over several days can be made if drivers can find charging stations at truck rest stops.

The use of light electric vehicles for short-haul deliveries has been growing steadily for some time, but new regulations are pushing manufacturers and carriers to speed up the transition and develop long-haul capabilities.

The most populous US state, California, passed a law phasing out combustion engine trucks, which has since been followed by other states.

The European Union is also expected to discuss new standards in the coming months.

Companies also face pressure to have a more environmentally conscious reputation.

They “want to be on the right side of history”, says Marie Cheron of the European association Transport & Environment.

Those who do not commit to a decarbonisation strategy, some of whom say they are waiting for technologies to improve, “are being left behind”, he says.

Another motivation for the transition, says Roeth, is that drivers who have been able to try them, “love electric trucks very much.”

“They’re very quiet, they don’t have exhaust odors, and they’re comfortable to drive.”

– Cost considerations –

For the adoption of electric trucks to accelerate, their range must really live up to promises and batteries would ideally be reduced, several analysts told AFP.

The charging infrastructure must also be built.

That means adding more charging stations, but also building an electrical distribution system strong enough to allow, for example, ten trucks to connect at the same time in a parking lot.

The most important factor will undoubtedly be the price.

Buying an electric truck costs about 70 percent more than a diesel truck right now, but in terms of power and maintenance, it’s cheaper, Mullaney says.

“Battery electric vehicles will be competitive with diesel… it’s just a matter of time,” a spokeswoman for US manufacturer Navistar, a Traton subsidiary, told AFP.

Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives says Tesla now must “show that they can produce at scale, they need to execute.”

In late October, Musk said that Tesla is aiming to build 50,000 Semis by 2024.

In 2018, when production of Tesla’s Model 3 sedan struggled to ramp up, Musk proved he could get his teams up to speed.

Ives says Musk’s attention is unfortunately focused on his latest acquisition, Twitter.

“The circus show takes away from a monumental moment in Tesla history,” he adds.


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