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Tesla Unveils All-Electric Class 8 Semi Truck

By Jack Roberts -
Posted Nov 20th 2017 4:10PM

Tesla has revealed more details concerning its new, all-electric Class 8 Semi.

In a scene reminiscent of a Rolling Stones concert in the 1960s, Tesla CEO Elon Musk emerged from a silver Tesla Semi at a SpaceX hanger in Hawthorne, California, packed with raucous fans.

For starters, Musk noted that the truck will feature a 500-mile range on a single battery charge, which he said would allow fleets to “go out to the middle of nowhere and return.” Equally important, he said that a planned network of global, high-speed, Direct Current charging stations would give the truck an additional 400 miles of range — and compared that to the 15 to 20 minutes it takes to fill up a diesel-powered Class 8 truck today, adding that drivers are required to take rest breaks anyway. “Once you’re done with your break,” he said, “your truck will be ready to go.”

Fleets that use solar-powered “mega-chargers” would see tremendous savings, he added, since their trucks would be “powered by sunlight,” while adding that the batteries receive additional electric energy through the truck’s regenerative braking system, which Musk said was so powerful drivers would rarely need to use the brake pedal.

Musk likely raised more than one eyebrow when he claimed that thanks to its optimized traction and instantaneous torque, the new Semi would be able to go from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds without a trailer, and 0 to 60 in 20 seconds when pulling a fully loaded trailer. Equally important, Musk said the unique characteristics of an electric powertrain’s torque delivery with no clutch actuation or gear shifts would allow the Tesla Semi to climb a 5% grade while maintaining a constant 65 mph.

Musk also touted the simplicity of the design and its operation, noting that there was not transmission or gears that had to be “shifted constantly,” adding, ‘Driving a diesel truck today is a pain. This truck has one gear and is so easy to drive anyone can do it. I can drive this thing, and I can’t drive a semi!”

Musk also outlined his economic case for his new truck, explaining that at an operating cost of $1.26 per mile, a Tesla Semi will be 20% cheaper to operate than a comparable diesel truck, which he said typically runs at $1.51 per mile.

Jackknifed trailers would be a thing of the past for fleets running the Tesla Semi, Musk added, since its four, independently controlled electric motors were able to apply positive or negative torque to the drive wheels, as well as independently applied brakes while backing to allow a trailer to track smoothly.

Turning to the Semi’s interior, Musk told the packed hanger that the truck has a “beautiful, spacious interior” that “you can stand up inside.”

The two touchscreen displays mounted on each side of the driver’s seat allow access to the truck’s navigation system, blind spot sensors and electronic logging device along with other controls and gauges.

Tesla telematics and self-diagnostic capability will be standard on the truck, Musk added, with a Tesla app giving fleets updates on vehicle health and even anticipating when maintenance is required.

Another standard feature, according to Musk, is Tesla’s enhanced Autopilot autonomous vehicle control system, which uses cameras mounted around the truck to support a full range of autonomous driver aides, including automatic emergency braking, automatic lane keeping assistance, lane departure warnings and an event log.

Additionally, Musk said, the truck is capable of automatically contacting emergency services if there is no driver response in the wake of an emergency braking event. “This is a massive increase in safety,” he added.

In another eyebrow-raising statement, Musk said that Tesla Autopilot will also enable truck platooning operations, which he called “convoys.” In this operating mode, Musk said a convoy of Tesla trucks would then be half as expensive to operate as diesel trucks, and “10 times safer than with a human driver.” Overall, Musk said, the efficiency of a Tesla truck convoy would “beat rail.”

Musk wound up his Semi pitch by noting the importance of reliability in fleet operations and pointing out that a Tesla Semi has no internal combustion engine, exhaust aftertreatment system, transmission, axles or differentials to maintain. In fact, a storage compartment is located in the nose of the truck, he said.

“Reliability is incredibly important,” Musk finished. “We’re guaranteeing this truck will not break down for a million miles.” If two motors happened to break down, the truck would still move, and even at that reduced capacity it would still reportedly beat the speed of a diesel-powered truck.

Musk wrapped up his presentation by saying that Tesla was taking orders for the new Semi truck now, with full production slated to begin in 2019.

With that, Musk then unveiled a new, Tesla supercar roadster, with a world-record 0 to 60 time of 1.9 seconds that he said “would kill gasoline-powered sports cars.”

Once that presentation was complete, Musk invited Tesla guests to inspect the two Semi trucks up close, igniting something of a mob scene as a throng of spectators swarmed the trucks.

In all, the event was quite a departure from the more sedate model launches typically seen in the North American truck market. And it should be noted that the vast majority of the cheering, enthusiastic crowd on hand were Tesla car owners, who are given tickets to high-profile events like the one in California last night as a kind of loyalty program. There were, however, several executives from high-profile fleets on hand for the event, and according to published reports, J.B. Hunt Transport Services has already reserved several. If fleet response to Tesla’s new truck proves to be as positive as that of the automotive customers on hand last night, it is likely Musk’s new truck will carve out a niche for itself in North America’s highly competitive commercial vehicle market.


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