December 11, 2017
On November 16, 2017, Tesla unveiled their long-awaited all-electric semi-truck prototype. Unlike many of the concept cars found at the Chicago Auto-Show, this prototype was far more than a cool design. The Tesla electric semi more than competes with the standard diesel combustion engine and rethinks many of the design assumptions in standard semi-trucks. Though this isn’t yet a final product, the progress made is already enough to spur excitement.
An Enormous Industry to Disrupt
The American trucking and shipping industry stands to gain enormous cost savings by switching to electric semi-trucks. According to the American Trucking Associations, 2016 trucking revenues were $676.2 Billion, and those trucks moved more than 10.4 Billion tons of freight. That accounts for only a single year.
The industry relies on vehicles that are far from efficient. According to Popular Mechanics, the average miles per gallon of the average 18 wheel semi-truck is 6.5 mpg. Eliminating the thousands of gallons each truck consumes annually is already a big step. Beyond that, the Tesla electric semi boasts other impressive metrics.
Tesla Electric Semi on the Road
According to Elon Musk’s unveiling presentation, the Tesla electric semi:
- Can go from 0 to 60mph in just five seconds
- Can go from 0 to 60 mph with a full load in just 20 seconds
- It can travel at 65 mph up a 5% gradient
- Diesel semis can only go 45mph at this gradient
- Can tow 80,000 pounds
- Can travel either 300 or 500 miles with a full load on a single charge depending on the battery used
- Most trucking routes are 250 miles or less
- Is charged at solar-powered megachargers – the semis can gain 400 miles worth of charge with only 30 minutes of charging time
- This can be done while loading or unloading by detaching the cab
- Surround view cameras eliminate blind spots
Design Changes and AI
Beyond core performance metrics, the Tesla electric semi has made a few noticeable design changes over the standard diesel semi-truck. Furthermore, some of their advances in driving automation found in their consumer model cars are incorporated in the electric semi.
- Opening the door reveals a small staircase inside the cabin to allow for easy entry and exiting of the vehicle.
- The cabin area behind the driver’s seat allows enough headroom for the driver to stand upright.
- Because these vehicles rarely have a passenger, the driver’s seat is located in the center of the cabin with a secondary removable jump seat available. That seat is offset and behind the driver’s seat.
- Flanking the driver’s seat on either side are touch-screen tablets that offer navigation information, trip data, blind spot monitoring, and more.
- Automated emergency braking
- Lane keeping functions
- Lane departure warnings
Looking Forward to a New Era in Shipping
The Tesla electric semi-truck clearly offers a number of attractive benefits over the traditional models. One of the major obstacles at this point is ensuring the vehicles have functional charging stations wherever they are needed. To that end, Tesla has announced that they intend to have these stations placed around the world to ensure that the trucks can be a practical and convenient choice for companies. How that is practically accomplished is still unclear.
Considering this electric semi is still a prototype and among the first of its kind, it’s clear that the diesel semi-truck is in its last days. Adoption rates may vary, but the writing is on the wall. Electric semi-trucks are going to be the future of the trucking industry.
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