All the way back in December 2017 Tesla announced the Tesla Semi. At the time, many saw electric semi trucks as not viable, with the weight and distances presenting a significant challenge to the batteries that power it.
We’re now 4 months short of the 5 year anniversary of that event and we finally have confirmation they’ll be hitting US roads in 2022.
In a tweet today, Elon Musk confirmed a 500-mile (804km) range Semi Truck will start shipping this year. This is great news customers who have ordered the Semi and are looking to extract the benefits that electric trucks can offer.
Moving to an EV in the commercial trucking world is expected to offer many of the same benefits as Tesla’s passenger vehicles.
To begin, there are significantly lower ongoing costs associated with recharging and maintenance. There are also benefits like faster acceleration, a simpler driving experience, and better seating position, better safety and dramatically better technology.
When it comes to being faster, there’s a dramatic difference here, taking off from the lights, driving up a hill, all of that changes with the torque available from the electric motors. This change to electric Semi trucks will be better for all road users, as slower trucks often cause additional lane changes to avoid being held up by a slow-moving truck.
Tesla Semi is expected to offer the same Autopilot technology, providing lane-centring and adaptive cruise control, making long-haul driving a breeze. Tesla is working on developing their autonomous driving solution known as the Full Self Driving Package and we’ll be keen to see what features of the package are available in Semi. With lane changes being one of the biggest opportunities for accidents, I’d hope to see automatic lane changing to help check the available space and only merge when safe to do so.
Fleet Management Software
Something many don’t consider about Tesla’s first move into the commercial vehicle space is the software services required to complement these trucks.
If you’re in the transport and distribution game, you’ll have very different expectations for your vehicles than consumers. Fleet Managers expect to track their vehicles, log data around trips and driver shifts to ensure the employer is meeting safety legislation.
For Tesla to be launching the Semi later this year, they must have the software side of the business sorted. Tesla’s navigation software and route planning need to accommodate road limitations, tree overhangs, low bridges etc and route around them.
Given the amount of on-board data Tesla has access to with their connected cars, it seems like an easy win to provide much of that through the Fleet management software. This could include vehicle top speed, average energy usage, total charging time etc.
While consumers expect a lot for free, the business world expects to pay and it’s likely Fleet Management services would be a monthly charge to access and could be an entirely new profit center for Tesla.
The Tesla Semi will use its own battery design, the 4680 form factor to deliver the industry-leading range. There are other electric trucks on the market now, but none come close to what Tesla is about to offer. Musk’s confirmation today that Semi will be on the road this year, raises the question about charging infrastructure for them.
While Tesla reported more than 36,000 connectors across 3,971 Supercharger stations in their Q2 2022 update, none of those were designed to accommodate a Semi.
While the most batteries found in a Tesla vehicle to date has been 100kWh, it is expected that we may see a battery pack somewhere between 750kWh to 1MWh in capacity. That would take a very long time to recharge at Supercharger rates, which means Tesla needs the Megacharger.
Back in January this year, we saw reports that Tesla had installed Megachargers at Pepsi’s Frito-Lay facility in Modesto, California. Given this, it seems the strategy for commercial charging infrastructure may be to install charging infrastructure at locations where the charging time of Semi would be covered by the loading and unloading processes.
Details on the speed available from a Megacharger are still to be confirmed, as is the total charge time required.
All said, I’d love to see the Semi make its way to Australia as we rely heavily on road freight in this country and emissions from Diesel Semi trucks are responsible for a significant part of our CO2 emissions.
Even if not for the environmental benefits, there are many accidents on our roads each year where trucks leave the road through fatigue or distraction and with Autopilot, those drivers would have a far safer driving experience.
Watch the original announcement below.