Tesla electrifies heavy trucking with Semi
After much teasing, Tesla finally revealed its long-awaited Semi heavy-duty truck in front of a raucous crowd of customers and others at its Hawthorne, CA, facility. Jerome Guillen, VP, Truck and Programs at Tesla, warmed up the crowd before CEO Elon Musk was driven on stage in one of the all-electric long-haul trucks, which are touted to deliver a far better experience for truck drivers while increasing safety and significantly reducing the cost of cargo transport.
Musk started his presentation by focusing on performance: “We wanted a vehicle that feels incredible, that accelerates like nothing else.” He showed the crowd what that means by real-time animations, comparing the electric Tesla Semi on the top in a drag-strip animation with a typical diesel truck on the bottom.
Without a trailer, Tesla says the Semi accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5 s, vs. 15 s in a comparable diesel truck. The Semi does the same sprint with a full 80,000-lb (36,300-kg) load in 20 s, a task that Tesla says takes a comparable diesel truck about a minute.
“On the left, the thing that looks like it's not moving, is a diesel truck,” quipped Musk. “Give it a moment, sorry to bore you, I apologize, boring I know, eventually it will get there.”
Most notably for truck drivers and other travelers on the road, it climbs 5% grades at a steady 65 mph (105 km/h), while a diesel truck maxes out at 45 mph (72 km/h) on a 5% grade, claims Tesla.
“What this means is that if you're pulling a load over the Rockies or some mountainous terrain up a hill, you're earning 50% more per mile [in a Tesla Semi] than you are in a diesel truck,” said Musk.
Of course, any conversation about electric vehicles centers around range per charge. Even Musk acknowledged as much: “One of the biggest questions we've been asked about electric trucks is how far can they go?”
Fully loaded, the Tesla Semi consumes less than 2 kW·h of energy per mile, making it capable of a 500-mi (805-km) range in top configuration at its maximum GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) rating of 80,000 lb and at a 60-mph highway speed. The company says that this accommodates a wide range of shipping applications, given that nearly 80% of freight in the U.S. is moved less than 250 mi (402 km) per trip. (The Tesla website also lists a version of the Semi with a 300-mi (482-km) range.)
Coupled with the low and stable nature of electricity prices—which average $0.12/kW·h in the U.S. and can be significantly less for commercial and industrial users, falling to almost nothing if locally solar generated and stored—owners can expect to gain $200,000 or more in savings over a million miles based on fuel costs alone.
Local solar generation and storage was one of the bigger ancillary announcements during the event. For the Semi’s rollout, Tesla engineers are developing a network of Megachargers, a new high-speed DC charging solution. The company says that each charger will add about 400 mi (644 km) of range in just 30 minutes, and they can be installed at origin or destination points and along heavily trafficked routes, enabling recharging during loading, unloading, and driver breaks.
“You will travel anywhere in the world on a Tesla Megacharger network,” said Musk. “That means we can guarantee the electricity rates because these will be solar powered that charge to a Tesla power pack. Its 24/7, guaranteed low[-cost] electricity. Because these megachargers are solar powered, your truck is running on sunlight.”
Tesla has been a pioneer in automated driving systems and over-the-air software for passenger cars and will continue its push on the heavy-duty Semi. Its surround cameras aid object detection and minimize blind spots, automatically alerting the driver to safety hazards and obstacles.
Musk said: “Every truck we sell will have Autopilot as standard.” With Enhanced Autopilot, the Semi features automatic emergency braking, automatic lane keeping, lane-departure and forward-collision warning, and event recording.
“Even if you're in the truck and you have a medical emergency, the truck will stay in lane and gradually come to a halt, and put on the emergencies,” Musk added. “If it doesn't hear a response from you, it will actually call the services and get an ambulance. It's going to take care of you, it’s going to take care of other cars, it’s going to take care of pedestrians. This is a massive increase in safety.”
The Tesla Semi’s all-electric architecture is inherently safer than other heavy-duty trucks on the market due to an exceptionally low center of gravity because the heavy mass of batteries is mounted low in the floorpan and shielded from impacts. The truck’s four independently controlled drive wheel motors help to prevent jackknifing. Onboard sensors detect instability and react with positive or negative torque to each wheel, while independently actuating all brakes.
The driver sits centrally in the cab behind a windshield of impact-resistant glass that Musk calls “thermonuclear explosion-proof glass” but is officially called Tesla Armor Glass.
“Truck windshields are huge, and they crack about once a year. And if the truck windshield is cracked, you're not allowed to drive. That means lost revenue, disappointed customers; it's a terrible day. And you if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere, it could take ages to get a new windshield. So actually this detail matters a lot to someone who really understands trucking.”
The electric-drive architecture allows the Semi’s cabin to feature unobstructed stairs for easier entry/exit and full standing room inside. Two touchscreen displays positioned symmetrically on both sides of the steering wheel provide easy access to navigation, blind spot monitoring, and electronic data logging.
Built-in connectivity integrates directly with a fleet’s management system to support routing, scheduling, and remote monitoring. A Tesla app gives information about the truck through Tesla Mobile Services, which includes remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, location tracking, and communication with dispatch. Diesel trucks today currently require several third-party devices with a lot of integration issues for similar functionality, claims Musk.
Tesla targeted the lowest cost of truck ownership through savings in energy, performance, efficiency, and reliability. With far fewer moving parts than a diesel truck—no combustion engine, transmission, aftertreatment, or differentials to upkeep—the Tesla Semi is said to require significantly less maintenance. Its battery pack is similar in composition to those of Tesla energy products and is designed to support repeated charging cycles for more than a million miles. Its motors are derived from Tesla’s Model 3 car and have been validated to last more than one million miles under demanding conditions.
“We are guaranteeing it won't break down for a million miles because it has four independent drivetrains,” said Musk. “You can lose two of the four motors and the truck will still keep going. In fact even if you only have two of the four motors active, it will still beat a diesel truck [in performance].”
The single-speed driveline means no shifting is required for smooth acceleration and deceleration. The truck’s regenerative braking system recovers 98% of kinetic energy to the battery, giving it a “basically infinite brake life.”
“If your cost per mile is too high, it doesn't make economic sense, you can’t make it work,” said Musk. “So we've really thought about this a lot. And when you take everything into account—the lease cost, the insurance cost, maintenance, all of the factors—the fully accounted for true cost of trucking, a diesel truck will be 20% more expensive than a Tesla Semi per mile.”
Tesla showed on screen a $1.51/mile cost for a diesel truck compared with $1.26/mile for a Semi for a 100-mile route (A-B-A), 60-mph average speed, 80,000-lb GVW, $2.50 per gallon diesel, and a $0.07/kW·h Megacharger electricity price.
“Having a Tesla Semi, we will beat a diesel truck on day one,” Musk added. “And this is a worst-case scenario. We're guaranteeing a 7 cent [per kilowatt hour] wholesale price. These are real numbers.”
Tesla claims $200,000+ in fuel savings and a two-year payback period.
The Semi can also travel in a convoy, where one or several Semi trucks will be able to autonomously follow a lead Semi.
“So what if you have two trucks following,” said Musk. “You are more like a train driver. We think that the convoy technology…is something that we are confident we could do today, 10 times safer than a human driver. If you look at the economics of a truck convoy it gets way better. Now a diesel truck is twice as expensive as a Tesla semi.”
Tesla says that a Semi three-truck convoy would achieve $0.85/mile.
“It's not just economic suicide to use one diesel truck,” said Musk. “It's economic suicide for rail. We're confident that this is a product better in every way from a future standpoint; that wins on economics against diesel trucks in a worst case scenario; [and] that defeats rail in a convoy scenario.”
Semi production begins in 2019, and reservations can be made now for $5000 each for trucks not yet priced. Orders have already started, with some notable clients that include Walmart, Loblaw, and Meijer.