Tesla’s electric truck fleet to be unveiled next month, promising 500km range
Tesla will unveil an electric truck next month with an effective working range between 320 and 500km, as it expands its focus from the luxury car market to the freight industry.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has said a prototype of its semi-truck will be revealed next month and has tantalised the trucking industry with the prospect of a battery-powered, heavy-duty vehicle that can compete with conventional diesels, which can travel up to 1,000 miles (1,600km) on a single tank of fuel.
Tesla’s electric prototype will be capable of traveling the low end of what transportation veterans consider to be “long-haul” trucking, according to Scott Perry, an executive at Miami-based fleet operator Ryder System.
Perry said he met with Tesla officials earlier this year to discuss the technology at the automaker’s manufacturing facility in Fremont, California. Perry said Tesla’s efforts are centred on an electric big-rig known as a “day cab” with no sleeper berth, capable of traveling between 320 and 480km with a typical payload before recharging.
“I’m not going to count them out for having a strategy for longer distances or ranges, but right out of the gate I think that’s where they’ll start,” said Perry, who is the chief technology officer and chief procurement officer for Ryder.
Tesla’s plan, which could change as the truck is developed, is consistent with what battery researchers say is possible with current technology.
Tesla has not said publicly how far its electric truck could travel, what it would cost or how much cargo it could carry, although Musk has acknowledged that Tesla has met privately with potential buyers to discuss their needs.
Musk has expressed hopes for large-scale production of the Tesla Semi within a couple of years. That audacious effort could open a potentially lucrative new market for the Palo Alto, California-based automaker.
That, or it could prove to be an expensive distraction. In July, Musk warned that the company is bracing for “manufacturing hell” as it accelerates production of its new Model 3 sedan. Tesla aims to produce 5,000 of the cars per week by the end of this year, and 10,000 per week some time next year.
Tesla shares are up about 65 per cent this year but some doubt Musk’s ability to take Tesla from a niche producer to a large-scale automaker. About 22 per cent of shares available for trade have been sold “short” by investors who expect the stock to fall.
Musk, a quirky billionaire whose transportation ambitions include colonising the planet Mars, has long delighted in defying conventional wisdom. At Tesla’s annual meeting in June, he repeated his promise of a battery-powered long-haul big rig.
“A lot of people don’t think you can do a heavy-duty, long-range truck that’s electric, but we are confident that this can be done,” he said.
While the prototype described by Ryder’s Perry would fall well short of the capabilities of conventional diesels, Musk may well have found a sweet spot if he can deliver. Roughly 30 per cent of US trucking jobs are regional trips of 100 to 200 miles, according to Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer of Toronto-based Fleet Complete, which tracks and analyses truck movement.
A truck with that range would be able to move freight regionally, such as from ports to nearby cities or from warehouses to retail establishments.
“As long as [Musk] can break 200 miles he can claim his truck is ‘long haul’ and he will be technically right,” Kar said.
Interest in electric trucks is high among transportation firms looking to reduce their emissions and operating costs. Electric motors require less maintenance than internal combustion engines and energy from the grid is cheaper than diesel.
Current battery technology is not yet capable of powering US trucks across the country. Experts say the batteries required would be so large and heavy there would be little room for cargo.
An average diesel cab costs around $120,000. The cost of the battery alone for a big rig capable of going 200 to 400 miles carrying a typical payload could be more than that, according to battery researchers Shashank Sripad and Venkat Viswanathan of Carnegie Mellon University.
Battery weight and ability would limit a semi to a range of about 300 miles with an average payload, according to a paper recently published by Sripad and Viswanathan. The paper thanked Tesla for “helpful comments and suggestions.” Tesla did not endorse the work or comment on the conclusions to Reuters.
A range of 200 to 300 miles would put Tesla at the edge of what the nascent electric truck industry believes is economically feasible, the researchers and industry insiders said.