Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk is showing the world a big rig-worth of reason to take seriously his master plan to electrify all the major forms of “terrestrial transport.”
The electric-car maker offered scant detail ahead of his remarks, saving information such as range, price and production plans for Musk to announce.
The company did say the truck will offer Autopilot safety features including automatic braking and lane-keeping systems.
It’s crucial for Musk that the semi-truck is well received. Tesla has stumbled out of the gate with the Model 3 sedan, the first car it’s trying to mass produce and sell to more mainstream consumers. With battery bottlenecks undercutting output, the CEO and master pitchman is seeking to re-generate hype about another future product capable of hauling in more revenue.
The truck also is vital to Musk’s mission. While battery-powered passenger cars get all the buzz, electrifying big rigs would make a material difference in cleaning up the transportation sector. The urgency to shift from emissions-spewing diesel engines is particularly acute in California, where the ports of Los
Angeles and Long Beach plan to phase them out in
favour of natural gas or zero-emission powertrains. Adding autonomous features on top of electrification may also help operators save on labor costs and spur major upheaval to the commercial trucking industry.
‘Ripe for Change’
“The truck market, for a variety of reasons, is ripe for change, from electrification, self-driving and connected” technology, Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, said in an email.
“Tesla clearly sees the promise.”
Tesla’s target market for the Semi is both fleet operators and independent owner operators. But the company will be its own first customer, using the truck to transport parts from its battery gigafactory in Nevada to its auto assembly plant in California. The Semi touts what Tesla is calling a shatter-proof windshield. Its spacious cab features a centred seat flanked by two 15-inch screens for navigation and blind-spot monitoring. The truck integrates several components of the Model 3, including the screens, motors and door handles.
Tesla is far from alone in trying to electrify semis. Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler AG has shown several battery-powered truck prototypes this year. Paccar Inc. is working on electric, hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell and natural gas-powered models, Chief Executive Officer Ron Armstrong said, though he cautioned it’ll be about 10 years before electric trucks pose a credible threat.
Volvo AB has been testing a hybrid concept truck for long-haul applications, while Navistar International Corp. and Volkswagen AG’s truck division have said they’ll jointly develop a battery-powered medium-duty truck for as soon as 2019.
“It is a highly competitive market among established truck manufacturers,” Consumer Edge Research analyst James Albertine wrote in a report. While many—if not all—are working on their own electric trucks, Tesla’s competitive edge lies in its battery-manufacturing and autonomous-software capabilities, he said.
Wal-Mart preorders five Tesla trucks for US, 10 for Canada
Customers are starting to place orders for Tesla Inc.’s new all-electric Semi truck, with retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. preordering for both its US and Canadian units.
“We have a long history of testing new technology—including alternative-fuel trucks—and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle,” Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said in
an email. “We believe we can learn
how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it
could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions.”
Lundberg said Wal-Mart has preordered five of the electric trucks for the US and 10 for Canada.
Meijer Inc. has reserved four Semi trucks for $5,000 deposits apiece, Dan Scherer, a fleet manager for the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based retailer, said after the product’s unveiling at Tesla’s design studio near Los Angeles. He said the closely held company operates 220 trucks in six states in the Midwest.
“Electric drivetrains are a proven technology,” Scherer said in an interview. “Electricity is cheaper fuel than diesel, and you are less dependent on the spot pricing of fossil fuel.”
J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. placed a reservation to buy multiple Tesla Semi tractors, the company said in a statement. The Lowell, Arkansas-based logistics company said it will deploy the trucks on the West Coast.
“Reserving Tesla trucks marks an important step in our efforts to implement industry-changing technology,” said Chief Executive Officer John Roberts.
“We believe electric trucks will be most beneficial on local and dray routes, and we look forward to utilising this new, sustainable technology.”