Despite concerns about the slow rollout of the $35,000 Model 3 Sedan and its shockingly high rate of cash burn, Tesla is pressing forward with its ambitions to shake up the world of automobiles and has done so in a new and unique way with the unveiling of the Tesla Semi truck.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk exuded confidence in his new big rig, and started off his remarks with perhaps the most impressive performance statistic of this beast, a 5.0 second 0 to 60 time when it isn’t shackled to a load. You read that correctly, 0 to 60 in 5.0 seconds, a time normally reserved for many modern performance cars, and a massive leap over the 0 to 60 times boasted by many of its petrol powered opponents. While it would be interesting to see how this big Tesla does in a drag race, the truck is no slouch either when towing a trailer filled with 80,000 lbs of stuff. Tesla claims that it can maintain a 65 mph speed on a sustained five percent grade wheras other diesel trucks can only do the same feat at 45 mph.
The exterior styling of the truck is clean, and obviously geared towards achieving maximum aerodynamics. While it will not win a beauty pageant anytime soon, The front fascia has a pseudo-aggressive look, and the slick headlights help endow it with a slight degree of elegance. The truck currently does not have a sleeper unit, but we actually prefer the bigger cab over the smaller box style unit that Tesla also had on display for the world’s press. The rear wheels are hidden behind panels, and keen observers will notice the centrally mounted driving position which supposedly enhances visibility for higher levels of safety. The rear fascia (if you call it that) is predictably utilitarian, but we do like the tasteful taillight strip which builds on its futuristic theme quite nicely.
In addition to the centrally mounted driving position, Tesla designers also aimed to maximize space by moving the passenger seat behind, and to the right of the driver versus the normal side by side configuration utilized by current big rigs. Tesla also enhanced interior storage, and claimed that these changes were inspired by feedback from commercial truck drivers. The interior also features two big screens borrowed from the Model 3 with the right screen featuring radio and navigation controls, and the left screen covering vehicle settings and other truck related functions. Tesla claims that like its passenger cars, the screens could eventually be updated to be more configurable which should please drivers looking to tailor them to their specific industry, and the transportation needs of their rigs.
The Tesla Semi Truck has conventional exterior mirrors mounted on the outside of the vehicle, but both screens also show the sides of the truck thanks to cameras mounted on the bottom portion of the mirror assembly. Tesla claims that these are part of the Autopilot system, but we suspect they are also designed to help drivers be more acclimated with the central driving position. As a bonus, Elon Musk claims that the front glass is “explosion proof” and that it could withstand the force of a nuclear blast. While we are not eager to find out how the Tesla Semi Truck fares as a bomb shelter, the exaggerated explanation could mean that the glass is more durable than conventional windscreens, and that could appeal to fleet managers looking to shave precious maintenance dollars, especially money that goes into replacing windshields damaged by rocks and other debris.
Performance in this segment is more about road tripping versus 0 to 60 sprints, and the Tesla Semi Truck aims to achieve this by offering drivers a 500 mile driving range between charges. Notably this is lower than diesel trucks equipped with auxiliary fuel tanks, but Elon Musk was quick to point out that 80 percent of all trucking routes are 250 miles or less which could give the EV truck an edge, especially if it has a reliable network of charging stations in place.
Speaking of charging stations, a project this big requires an equally big charging source, and Tesla has unveiled the answer to keeping the big Tesla Semis powered up, Megachargers. Designed to be even more powerful than the standard Supercharger network, Megachargers will still retain the global network that has come to define the Superchargers and Musk revealed that “truckers will be able to travel anywhere in the world via the Megachargers.” The main reason why this is possible is in the way that they work, with the Megachargers drawing their juice from solar energy. This allows them to stay off the main electrical grid, and in turn not only give drivers locked electricity rates, but also 400 miles of driving range in a 30 minute charge.
This is not a bad combination, though we are curious to see how quickly Tesla can get the Megacharger network up and running, especially considering that the California based firm plans to unleash the first units onto the marketplace in 2019. Another challenge will be how much of a strain this new model will put on Tesla’s already precarious cash reserves, especially if sales do not meet projections. Contrary to Tesla’s flash and circumstance, the Tesla Semi Truck is NOT the first EV big rig in the marketplace. For example Daimler already has an all electric concept truck out on the road, while Nikola Motors is also embarking on a production green big rig of their own, the electric-hydrogen fueled Nikola One.