Tesla Semi will change distribution forever in 2019

Friday afternoons are usually quiet, but today Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk officially unveiled the Tesla Semi. The truck is fully electric and comes with some seriously impressive specs that...

Friday afternoons are usually quiet, but today Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk officially unveiled the Tesla Semi. The truck is fully electric and comes with some seriously impressive specs that are set to disrupt the transport and distribution industries forever.

All-electric, zero emissions and a killer recharge time means the Tesla Semi is a serious disruption to business as usual truck industry. Mack, Mercedes-Benz, Scania, FUSO, Volvo, Western Star and many more truck manufacturers just got a rude awakening, the technology company just learned your business faster than you could learn theirs.

Performance

With an impressive 0-60 MPH (100KM) in just 5 seconds, those speeds are simply unheard of in the heavy vehicle industry. That’s 3 times faster than any other semi. Even when the trailer is loaded and the total net weight is 36,287kg (36.2 tonnes), the Tesla Semi can reach 100km/hr in just 20 seconds, dramatically better than a traditional diesel truck.

Its at this point its worthwhile remembering one of the key benefits of electric motors, there’s only 1 gear, so all of the time losses acquired by shifting through an 18-speed box and the associated clutching to support the shift process, which pauses forward momentum. Having trucks accelerate faster has a multitude of benefits. Not only does it mean the goods reach their destination faster, it also means congestion in our cities, caused by the slow get away of trucks from stop lights, could be eliminated.

Musk says traditional powertrains are only good for 72km/hr up a 5% incline, while the Semi is good for 104.5km/hr. Anyone who’s driven behind a truck uphill, will appreciate the difference here. Anyone who owns a trucking company will appreciate the time savings.

Range

One of the biggest question is of course range. While the Tesla Semi may not be applicable for all transport needs, it is good for 804.6km at highway speed at full load. Expect a little less with combined city and highway driving, but not the same losses as a diesel engine and traditional gearbox. At least in the US, around 80% of routes that are done by semi trucks are less than 400km, so the Tesla Semi may be suitable.

Now lets look at a big day for an Australian truck driver. They’ll do between 1,000 and 1,100km per day. Melbourne to Sydney for example is 878km, which is a trip that’s potentially possible with the Tesla Semi.

While trucks can deliver their goods, reload, refuel and could be off again, humans are usually the determining factor. Unless the company is throwing in a new driver, the first driver is required to have a 7 hour break every 24 hours. This mandatory driver window, provides an opportunity to recharge the Tesla Semi, in preparation for the return journey.

Drag

The Tesla Semi has a 0.36 drag coefficient, which it needs to be to decrease drag and achieve the range. As way of comparison, Musk chose to compare it to a $2 million supercar, the Bugatti Chiron, which only scores 0.38 (lower is better). A standard diesel truck has between 0.65-0.70 which means the aerodynamic engineers at Tesla have created something that not only looks futuristic, but actually serves to deliver around half the drag coefficient as to be expected with a truck.

Expressed in consumption terms, the Tesla Semi uses less than 2 kWh every 1.6km, a very impressive rate of efficiency.

Something you may need to consider is that during the announcement, the Tesla semi was pictured with lovely sleek trailers, but in reality that won’t be the case. The Semi is just the cab, so the trailers towed behind it, will still be the ugly, inefficient trailers we see today with drag like mudflaps, spare tyres, tool boxes etc.

Engine and suspension

There’s no less than 4 motors in this thing, the most of any Tesla vehicle so far. There’s a motor on each of the rear wheels to power the Semi, as well as independent front suspension, to help with ride comfort. The simplicity of the electric motors means the driver basically has forward and reverse and smooth acceleration, just like a big Model 3.

Inside the Cabin

Another unique attribute of this truck is the position of the driver. Located in the center, rather than the left or right, this is like a cockpit, giving you a great view from the panoramic windshield. The height inside the cabin is spacious enough to stand up inside and there’s even a fold down rear seat if you need to carry a passenger.

The similarities to the Tesla’s other cars can’t be missed with the Tesla Semi, also featuring a front-trunk, or frunk. Given the volume of data that needs to be available to drivers, there’s actually 2 displays either side of the driver’s steering wheel, the dual-screen being another Tesla Semi-first development. Today, we only got a 3D render of the interior, somewhat explained by the timeline, we’re some ways until a final design is reached.

Musk says the typical interior of a truck is littered with devices and 3rd party hardware like job systems, navigation hardware, vehicle monitoring equipment, its basically a mess. Tesla has condensed this down into the 2 digital displays and puts the information at the driver’s fingertips.

As part of any vehicle fleet in distribution, there’s associated fleet management software, of which Tesla says their truck will seamlessly integrate. That essentially means the vehicle logging, GPS data etc would be published out in common, industry formats, ready for consumption by reporting and live telemetry systems. This is a must-have for the Tesla Semi to fit into existing fleets and really to be considered as a viable option at all, not a lot of time was spent on this, but its absolutely critical to adoption by industry.

Unlike any truck you’ve ever driven

Megachargers / Recharging

As you can imagine, the Tesla Semi has a stupid number of lithium-ion batteries to charge. That charging takes time, so even the Superchargers that power their vehicles isn’t good enough. They upped their game and announced a ‘Megacharger’ specifically for this task. These Tesla Megachargers will be rolled out Worldwide, the schedule for, we’re yet to learn. Musk says, like the plan for Superchargers, the goal is to let you drive anywhere in the world – translation, they’re laying down some serious coin to build out a transport charging network.

In just 30 minutes, you can recharge a Tesla Semi to get another 640km of range. Game changed. That makes Tesla’s semi trucks capable and practical to implement in a vast array of distribution networks. From stopping to unload, to stopping for a scheduled driver break, the truck can be recharging while the driver refreshes and grabs a meal and toilet break.

These Megachargers will be fed by solar-power, with the sunlight stored in Tesla Powerpacks, which lets Tesla guarantee low-cost rates to recharge. This is where the Apple-like end-to-end solution from Tesla places them at a massive advantage.

 

Autopilot / Safety

Truck drivers do an amazing job distributing the goods we buy across the country and across the globe. That comes with challenges associated with negotiating traffic, environments and fighting fatigue.

Every Tesla Semi will come with Enhanced Autopilot, not optional, standard. The Semi features Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping and Forward Collision Warning. These technology improvements mean you could suffer a medical emergency, or fall asleep and the truck will take over, safely stop you and call emergency services if you don’t respond.

The Semi by Tesla also benefits from having heavy batteries placed down low, resulting in the lowest center of gravity, meaning rollovers are all but impossible. The Semi also features smart software to prevent jacknifing and that center position of the driver makes them safer in side-impact incidents.

With these technologies combined, injuries and deaths involving trucks could not just decrease dramatically, but actually be reduced to 0.

That big glass windshield is also a potential risk to drivers, should an object (like a bird) smash into it and break the glass. Shards could be projected towards the driver, so to solve this, Tesla use ‘Armor Glass’ which can sustain much higher load. This not only protects the driver, but also avoids downtime as window cracks often mean you need to take the asset off the road while its repaired.

Jacknifing is impossible

Platooning

You know what’s cooler than 1 semi truck? Multiple and platooning or a convoy of trucks is something that happens organically right now as trucks coordinate typically via in-cabin radios. Overtaking is often a negotiation with an understood pattern of behaviours between drivers like flashing their lights to inform the truck ahead they’re trailer is clear of them and its safe to merge back into the left lane.

Musk says they have the technology today, that makes convoys safer, much much safer.

Reliability

Tesla are confident, really confident about the reliability of the Tesla Semi. They have made an amazing guarantee that this truck will not break down for 1 million miles. In Aussie language, that’s 1.6 Million kilometers.

They’re able to do this thanks to a dramatically simplified drive train that feature a lot less moving parts. Not only that, but the 4 motors provide redundancy that other trucks simply don’t have. You can loose 2 of those motors and still keep going. This means roadside services are basically a thing of the past as the driver should easily be able to get back to base.

Break pads basically last forever, thanks to the braking force being re-targeted into regenerative energy being sent back to the batteries instead (again helping range). This is a great example of a win-win from Tesla’s all-electric approach. Not only do you help increase the range, but you remove a critical serviceable component that would typically see a truck off the road for maintenance.

Mobile app

Typically truck fleets are supported by a mobile service contract, so when they break (which they do) a service van arrives to fix the truck on-location. Sometimes, the driver may know the issue and can help diagnose it with the tech, to ensure the right replacement parts are taken, but with Tesla being a technology company, they wanted to do better.

The mobile app for Tesla Semi allows the driver to access all the truck data, something typically reserved for a special (and expensive) diagnostic solution. This will help understand what’s wrong with the vehicle, eliminating the guess work.

As a company who buys Tesla Semi’s you can also get info about the location of your vehicles and get preventative maintenance alerts, so you can plan outages well in advance.

 

Transformer

The Tesla Semi does something no other truck does, it has flaps at the rear of the cabin that close to the width of the trailer you’re towing, meaning its not just the cabin that’s aerodynamically sound, but the drag on the trailer is also decreased. The bottom of the truck is also completely flat, ensure airflow runs along the bottom of the vehicle smoothly, not interrupted by the drive-train.

Cost & Availability

Here’s the biggest challenge, pricing the Tesla Semi. Tesla says the true, fully accounted comparative operating cost is $1.26 per mile (AU$1.67 per 1.6km). This is actually considerably cheaper than the cost of running a typical diesel truck.

These calculations include running the trucks at an average of 60 mph (96km/hr) at $2.50 per gallon diesel price vs a worst-case scenario of 7c/kWh electricity price.

In that convoy situation we mentioned above (2 or more trucks) Musk claims the economics of good distribution using Tesla Semi actually beats rail. What wasn’t discussed was any b-double or road-train implementations that we see a lot of in Australia.

Pre-orders have started today from US$5,000 and production (and deliveries) of the Tesla Semi begin in 2019. Hopefully Tesla are through their ‘production hell’ of shipping the Model 3 by then. There was no full outright price announced, which means its bloody expensive or that Tesla aren’t sure of what the cost will look like in 2 years time.

Unfortunately you can only reserve a Tesla Semi now if you’re in the US or Canada, which is understandable for a new product that’s expensive to ship, but Australia does have one of the largest distance challenges and therefore could see some of the most benefit from the Tesla Semi.

You can read more at https://www.tesla.com/semi/

 

This article was written in conjunction with Stephen Cartwright.

 

Tesla Pickup

Musk showed off a concept (sketch) of another truck during the presentation, a giant electric pickup truck, which is so big, it could carry a standard pickup (think Ford Ranger in the tray). Because America is insane, apparently you’d only need a regular car licence to drive that thing. Good luck parking it. If you’re pimped out F-150 with a 6 inch lift kit isn’t big enough, then start saving, should this Tesla Pickup ever make it to market.

One more thing.. The new Tesla Roaster.

 

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.