Tesla has finally opened the order books for its Semi electric truck after a long four-year wait held back by battery cell supply constraints.
Having missed the opportunity of laying claim to be the first electric semi-trailer to market, Tesla has chosen instead to emphasise the performance capabilities of the Tesla Semi.
Perhaps top of the list is its ability to accelerate from 0-60mph (0-96.5km/hr) in 20 seconds, a feature that Tesla has described as “badass”. This is also thanks to a drag coefficient of 0.36 (the average truck-trailer combo is 6.08 according to this journal).
Four independent motors – all on the rear axle – allow for a speed of 60mph (96.5km/hr) up a 5% grade. Tesla says that the Semi’s energy consumption is under 2kWh per mile, equating to the average power used by about 8 Model 3s.
The Tesla Semi is available with two battery options. While Tesla did not specify energy capacity, its website says the Semi can offer either 300 miles (482km) or 500 miles (805km) of range.
These are specs that are not for the faint-hearted.
Only weeks ago, e-truck competitor Nikola opened orders for its battery-electric Tre. By comparison, it offers a top speed of 58km/hr up a 6% grade, and up to 563km driving range from its 753kWh battery.
Other specs include a gross combined vehicle weight rating (GCWR) of 82,000lb (37 tonnes). It has 240kW charging for a recharge time of 120 min (20-80%) and 480kW continuous power.
However, Tesla has not provided key specifications including GCWR, battery size or charging speed.
The price is not high
Perhaps surprisingly though, Tesla Semi pricing is not – as Tesla boss Elon Musk might say – “high”.
The “expected base price” of $US150,000 ($A217,680 converted) is for the standard-range Semi and $US180,000 ($A261,210 converted) for the extended-range variant.
Nikola, on the other hand, has not stated the Tre’s expected price but only mentions a potential $US150,000 rebate for Californian fleets through the state’s.
Tesla is asking for a $US20,000 ($A29,020) reservation fee. Interested parties are asked to deposit $US5,000 immediately and then arrange a wire for the remainder within 10 days, plus another $US20,000 for each vehicle required.
Tesla claims that as half the costs of running a diesel semi-trailer are fuel, the payback time for the Semi is two years.
Of course, the Semi is only available in the US for now.
In Australia, NSW-based Janus Electric in April unveiled its all-electric prime mover prototype, featuring battery-swap technology for trucks already on the road.
With around 400km range and a 630kWh battery, it can recharge in four hours. But it won’t need to do this on the run once the company’s battery swap stations are rolled out on the east coast.
Trucking on Autopilot
But back to the Tesla Semi, which will no doubt capture the attention of fleets wanting to reduce driver fatigue.
It comes with Tesla’s signature advanced driver assist, Autopilot, which Tesla says will help avoid collisions. Tesla says additional benefits are “centered driver position” providing “maximum visibility and control.”
It adds that the Semi’s “low center of gravity offers rollover protection.”
Tesla emphasises this is not autonomous driving and drivers must remain alert at all times.
A minimalist dash replete with two screens is a world apart from traditional trucking cabins. This, combined with Autopilot and a largely vibration-free ride will perhaps kick off a new age for the trucking industry.
Whether the Tesla Semi will be a game-changer for the industry will be interesting. By 2030, the American Trucking Association estimated a shortage of 160,000 drivers in the US in a 2021 report.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.