With all the hype about the Tesla Truck beginning to die down, perhaps it’s time to look at whether Tesla will have the field to themselves, or are there competitors in the wings?

When Tesla first released the Roadster in 2008 – it took competitors till late 2010/2011 to even begin catching up (with the early sales of the Mitsubishi iMiEV and the Nissan Leaf). Arguably – it could be said that it is only this year, with the release of the battery electric Jaguar I-Pace, that a competitor vehicle to the Tesla stable has truly arrived.

So will Tesla have the field to themselves for almost 10 years again, or have the other manufacturers learnt their lesson and begun developing competitor vehicles?

Well – the signs are that it is the latter.

So first of all, what do we really know about the Tesla ‘semi-truck’?

Tesla Semi-truck: known details

Announced:November 2017

Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM):36 metric tonne. (40 ton imperial)

Range:up to 800km

Acceleration:(0 – 100 kmh)

  • unloaded: 5 sec
  • Loaded: 20 sec

Recharge time:

  • Tesla Megacharger: 30 min
  • On-site: 6 – 8 hrs (at 150kW)

Warranty:1.6 million km (1 million mile)

Production start date:2019

Additional features include the centre driving position with passengers behind the driver, enhanced autopilot to enable the vehicle to detect an incapacitated driver and stop, park and call emergency services, plus an anti-jack-knifing program utilising its multiple individual wheel motors and a ‘platooning’ feature that enables Telsa semi-trucks to slipstream each other in a closely packed driving ‘train’.

Image: Tesla

Impressive – especially as we all know Tesla is famous for delivering what it says it will. However it is also well known that Tesla is yet to set a deadline that it has not failed to meet. So estimating that it will be 2020 or 2021 before we see Tesla semi-trucks in any numbers – what are Tesla’s competitors planning?

Well the closest reported rival is Daimler, who are planning a direct competitor (size wise) using current-day EV technologies, called the eCascadia.

Image: Daimler

It will be a more conventional looking truck with a range up to 400km, and a 90 min to 80% recharge time using the 350 ultra-fast chargers currently being rolled out in Europe and America.

Expected production date is 2021, which is only just after the likely Tesla production date. (But the 350kW chargers for the eCascadiawill be in place: unlike the Tesla ‘Megacharger’ network which has yet to even be defined, let alone built).

It will be a more conventional looking truck with a range up to 400km, and a 90 min to 80% recharge time using the 350 ultra-fast chargers currently being rolled out in Europe and America.

Expected production date is 2021, which is only just after the likely Tesla production date. (But the 350kW chargers for the eCascadiawill be in place: unlike the Tesla ‘Megacharger’ network which has yet to even be defined, let alone built).

Image: Mercedes

Other truck manufacturers are not far behind with planned models either. These include:

  • Mercedes eActros, which is currently in trials. It is likely to come as 18 and/or 25t GVM (gross vehicle mass) versions. Quoted as charging in 3 hrs at 80kW and 11 hrs at 20 kW, if the trials are successful series production could begin in 2021;
  • Volvo 16t FL Electric: currently in trials, release date set for 2019;
  • Daimler eM2(9 – 12t GVM) in testing, release date TBC;
  • Renault: reported to be releasing 4.5t – 16t van range in 2019;
  • Fuso eCanter(3.5t GVM) is available in limited numbers now;
  • SEA trucks here in Australia are building 4 – 12 tonne GVM trucks with up to 250km range using conventional truck ‘gliders’ (new trucks provided to them without the diesel drivetrain and componentry). See http://www.sea-electric.com/)
Image: SEA

So it’s a pretty safe bet that within five years the electrification of the trucking fleet will have begun too.

What will make sure that the change to EV trucking happens faster than the car fleet is that it will be economics, not just green living choices, which will be driving the early adopters.

The economics of EV trucks are compelling, and it is likely that those who jump first will be making VERY large savings compared to those remaining with conventional diesel powered trucks.

As an example, Tesla quote the following figures for their cost savings over similar sized conventional diesel trucks:

Interestingly, independent analyses seem to support Tesla’s contention that EV trucking is an economic ‘lay-down misère’.

Piper Jaffray (http://www.piperjaffray.com/) in the US came up with a simple pay-back period for the difference in EV versus diesel truck pricing of 2.1 years.

After that, the savings of around US$21,370 a year (approx. $29,000 Australian) is cream to enjoy for the remaining life of the truck!

There are other upsides to the increased profitability of running an EV truck fleet too. These include:

  • Regenerative braking (use of the electric motor as an electrical generator when slowing, and returning some of the energy to the battery and NOT wasting it as heat, noise and wear of the brakes);
  • Increased energy efficiency (= reduced fuel costs);
  • Much reduced brake wear. (Tesla say brakes to last life of truck!?);
  • No engine-braking noise issues (= ability to operate outside of truck noise ban times);
  • Ability to operate in inner city and other areas (where pollution bans are becoming increasingly common);
  • Less down-time through not needing to do regular diesel engine services and maintenance;
  • Many fewer components to wear or break (especially brakes!);
  • Better capacity to integrate driving safety and efficiency upgrades (platooning, anti-jack-knifing, semi-autonomous driving, and in long-term: autonomous driving).

All up – electrification of the trucking fleet may currently be a bit behind that of the passenger vehicle fleet – but when it begins in around 2021, the change-over is likely to happen at a much faster rate due to both the push factors of diesel pollution and noise bans being overcome, as well as the pull factor of increased profitability for EV truck owners.

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