Right now everyone thinks of Tesla as a car company, but their potential to disrupt the trucking industry is one of their greatest opportunities that is ahead for the company.
As Tesla grows up and moves out of survival mode, they have an opportunity to be more targeted in their prioritisation of engineering and production efforts. While helping the planet transition to sustainable transport, Tesla has the opportunity to leverage their technology to actually solve road accidents and death, particularly those associated with our transport and logistics industry.
According to a report by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, during the 12 months to the end of September 2019, 182 Australians died from 165 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks.
Australia is a massive continent, which paired with the distribution of our population, means road transport, like the US, makes up a significant portion of how we move things around.
Everything from food to furniture is transported using trucks and Australia takes that to the extreme with massive road trains. These combine a single cabin, with multiple trailers, to maximise the financial returns and reduces expenses, with a long-haul journey that pays just 1 driver, while delivering multiple trailer loads of product.
The economics of a truck company is simple. You have lots of expenses, like the cost of running the office, the price of the trucks (purchased or leased), the diesel, maintenance and of course, the driver’s wage.
The profit on each trip depends on a number of key factors. These including things like how closely the driver can match an optimal driving route, minimising any heavy acceleration or braking events that could consume additional diesel and maybe most important is hitting the time of arrival target.
This arrival timeframe is critical in most deliveries as major distribution centres often have arrival slots like an airport and if you miss your slot, it could mean hours of expensive delays. In the most severe cases, late deliveries can have per-minute late fees which eat into profits.
National Heavy Vehicle regulation mandates that for any 24 hour period, a solo driver, can only have a maximum of 12 hours of work time, then 7 continuous hours of rest time. This means 12 hours of possible productivity is lost because the trucks on our roads today require humans. In the near future, they won’t.
Estimations are that as much one-third of the cost of freight is attributed to the driver’s wage.
For these two reasons, transport companies are highly motivated to move to autonomous trucks, firstly to save lives, but as a secondary function, to have a competitive advantage over their rivals.
Those who move fast to adopt will likely dominate the industry and those who hold back will cease to exist as the economics drastically change. I’d expect more trucks on our highways, but these will be new, quiet trucks that can accelerate quickly off the line and stay safely between the white lines.
Due to their mass, accidents involving trucks often cause considerably more damage and more fatalities. When two cars crash, the chance of survival with modern safety devices, is reasonably high, however when trucks are involved, the chance of a fatality is significantly more.
The Australian Road Deaths Database is extremely confronting, with records stretching back to 1898. Many of these accidents involve fatigue, something until now that’s virtually impossible to avoid when we push human endurance and concentration levels to the limit.
Virtually all of these issues go away when we hit full autonomy. The benefits of this technology are so clear, that its likely level 4/5 autonomous driving that doesn’t require a human, will get approved for use in trucks before our cars.
The Tesla Semi is expected to go into production later this year and will first ship in limited quantities to the US. This will be followed by wider, international distribution, including Australia.
To date, Tesla Semi has received some big orders by major companies. According to Wikipedia, there’s a total of 465 significant orders for the Tesla Semi, while the actual number is expected to be much higher.
To order a Tesla Semi, you have to pay an initial US$5,000, followed by a US$15,000 deposit for a regular Semi, or US$195,000 for the Founders Series.
These early customers ordered before ever driving one, simply going on the information provided during the launch event. Customers include: