Tesla to unveil electric semi-truck this year
Tesla Inc. will unveil the first electric semi-truck in September, 2017. The announcement came from the outspoken Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk.
Last year, Musk said that the company was working on an electric truck project with a self-driving capabilities, like the other Tesla models. But he didn’t comment any further details.
Last Thursday, just before the Easter holidays, Elon tweeted- “Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.” With no other details or explanation, that was enough to get the trucking industry talking.
What kind of truck that would be? What kind of infrastructure will be required so it can be driving on the road? Would Tesla expand their network of electric charging stations?
Previously, Musk has said that he believes that all forms of transportation will be powered by electricity in near future.
But the trucking industry met those comments and now the project truck with a dose of skepticism. They say that replacing diesels with electric trucks will be long and challenging project.
According to the research firm IHS Markit, the electric vehicles will make just 1% of the entire trucking market in the U.S., by 2020. Electric truck will make up higher percentage of overseas markets- up to 10% in Europe and Japan by 2030. The biggest market is expected to be China, with 12%.
There is almost no market for electric trucks right now. The diesel fuel is cheap and the highway charging network for heavy-duty vehicles is nonexistent.
Another problem for Tesla would be the weight of the batteries that provide power. They should be small so not to take away the cargo load capacity. But on the other side, they should be powerful enough to be able to pull fully loaded semi-truck along the highway for a longer distance.
Analysts in the trucking industry, point out other issues that Tesla’s trucks might be face with, like service and repair. This has been an inconvenience for Tesla cars, as well and imagine how much harder it would be for trucks.
Refueling electric vehicles is time consuming. Battery swapping and refueling trucks overnight are options that require significant addition investment in infrastructure and logistic. With that, the price will be unreachable for the commercial vehicle market.
“Being able to develop a prototype, that’s one thing,” says Michael Ramsey, automotive analyst. “The other thing is where are you going to build it and how are you going to build it. There’s a huge capital requirement and now you’re getting into a very different business where your volumes are much lower, prices are much higher and you still have to put in the capital to build it.”
Tesla, however, has proved adept at tapping financial markets to raise capital when needed.
According to Musk, there will be no issues that would not be resolved and fixed. Tesla will launch its Model 3 sedan this year and it is also working on a Model Y. That is a compact SUV, with prediction to become the automaker’s top seller.
Tesla has delivered 73,630 vehicles globally in 2016. Musk has predicted that Model Y alone will sale between 500,000 and 1 million vehicles annually, globally.
Although the pace of change is slow in the trucking industry, everyone is watching Tesla carefully.
But some segments of the heavy-vehicle market have adopted electric powertrains.
Chinese vehicle manufactures BYD has electric trucks to move containers around ports and distribution centers. Those trucks are smaller, require smaller range and can be charged at a central facility.
Mitsubishi Fuso announced plans at the 2017 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis last month, to bring a new line of electric work trucks to the North American market.
There are electric buses, as well. But the infrastructure for buses and Class 8 trucks is different, as well, with buses able to carry its batteries underneath and carrying people much lighter than most of the loads long-haul trucks transport.
Closest rival to Tesla, is Nikola Motor. Nikola is developing a hydrogen fuel cell truck and plans to build a highway network of fueling stations. Hydrogen allows for fast fueling like diesel trucks. The fuel cell can power an efficient electric powertrain without carrying a large, heavy battery packs.
But even Nikola’s project is risky and depends on its ability to create a network of fueling stations.
So, as said, although the prediction is that the Tesla semi-truck won’t be a major threat in the next few years, the trucking industry is keeping an watchful eye on Tesla, on a long run.