AI Industry United States

Rolling Out the Tesla Semi

Electric, automated, and stormtrooper-shiny: the Tesla Semi debuted yesterday in Hawthorne, California.

Electric, automated, and stormtrooper-shiny: the Tesla Semi debuted yesterday in Hawthorne, California.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has always stressed the aesthetics of Tesla products, and how they would fit together like pieces of a puzzle to form his grand future vision. In this regard, the sleek form and game-changing function of the fully-electric Class 8 heavy-duty Tesla Semi make it the perfect addition to the Tesla family.

In the United States trucks handle over 70% of all freight transportation. But trucking is treacherous: last year 4,000 drivers lost their lives on American roads.

Semi’s autopilot function includes emergency braking, automatic lane keeping, forward collision warning. It will adjust the torque on each wheel automatically to stop jackknifing. Semi will even call 911 if the driver passes out or becomes unresponsive.

The truck is powered by four Tesla Model 3 motors, each dedicated to one of the drive wheels. It also has a bullet-shaped nose; dynamic side flaps which adjust to the trailer being pulled; and a smooth, flat bottom designed to lower air resistance. Musk boasts that Semi’s drag coefficient of 0.36 is better than the US$2 million Bugatti Chiron sportscar at 0.38, and of course, far superior to conventional diesel trucks in the 0.6-0.7 range.

Drivers sit in the center of a minimalist carbon fiber cockpit, flanked by two screens. Truck and driver are fully integrated with fleet management systems.

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Semi can accelerate to 60 mph (100kph) in 5 seconds, much faster than diesel-powered semi-trailers. Even hauling its max gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 80,000 pounds, it can accelerate to 60 mph in 20 seconds. Semi can reach a speed of 65 mph while climbing a 5% grade — an important performance boost compared to diesel.

To industry analysts’ surprise, Tesla announced that Semi’s battery can power the truck for 500 miles (aprox. 800km). This is a reasonable range for many logistics applications, covering, for example, the trip from LA to Silicon Valley without stopping. Drivers can grab a coffee at a Megacharger station while getting a full charge in just 30 minutes. It takes about 15 minutes to fuel a diesel truck.

How much will this shiny highway beast cost? That’s a good question, which Musk skirted at the unveiling. Instead, he provided a cost analysis under certain pre-conditions, estimating $1.26/mile for the Tesla Semi compared to diesel trucks at $1.51/mile. If three Semis are platooned, their cost dips under that of rail transportation.

The Semi’s glass is thermal nuclear explosion-proof and it comes with one million mile money back guarantee. Pre-orders have already come in from Walmart, Michigan supermarket chain Meijer, and transportation company J.B. Hunt.

Although the reaction to Semi has been largely positive, there are three main questions on industry insiders’ minds: How much will Semi actually cost? Will there be there sufficient charging stations en-route to practically accommodate the trucks? And, can Tesla deliver all orders as promised by 2019?


Journalist: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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