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On November 16, 2017, in Hawthorne, California, Elon Musk drove up in the cab of the new Tesla Semi to unveil their new electric semi-truck. Tesla has been working diligently to roll out a Class 8 equivalent truck that is fully electric and semi-autonomous—and it’s finally here.
Elon Musk expects that the Semi will create a better experience for the driver while increasing safety and reducing costs. But is this just the hopes of a visionary CEO or will the Semi truly have immense impacts on the transport system?
The question weighing on everyone’s mind: is the Tesla Semi going to disrupt the commercial trucking industry?
Tesla has declared that their semi-truck is going to be fully electric, able to run up to 500 miles between charges while hauling 80,000 pounds. The changes in the Tesla Semi indicate projected revolutions for the entire transport industry moving forward.
The largest difference between the Tesla Semi and other Class 8 trucks is the location of the steering wheel and driver. While the driver is usually on the left-hand side like traditional cars (right-hand side in the UK), the steering wheel in the Semi is in the center of the cab. There will be touchscreen panels on both sides of the driver. The panels are the same used in the Tesla Model 3.
This will make truck drivers more like pilots than drivers. They’ll be able to control their “autopilot” features, making cars more self-driving—and drivers will be more supervisory.
Additionally, the Semi doesn’t have a large diesel-powered engine. This means that the front cab is more spacious than the traditional Class 8. The driver can also be placed in closer proximity to the front of the truck, reducing the concerns of visibility directly in front of the truck’s high front end.
There’s no sleeper compartment in the Semi, but it’s expected in upcoming models.
The Tesla Semi has built-in connectivity. This means that the truck’s info and panels will integrate directly into the fleet management system. This will allow for easier, faster, updated routing and monitoring from a remote location.
Like with electronic logging devices, the trucking industry is making a push towards digitizing records. This can help drivers spot poor driving behaviors and potential shipment delays before they happen. This will streamline paperwork and operations while ensuring a safer, more efficient time on the road.
The Semi will offer Enhanced Autopilot, which is the second generation of Tesla’s semiautonomous driving technology. This safety tech includes automatic braking, lane keeping, and lane departure warnings.
Human error is responsible for the majority of truck-related collisions. Having semiautonomous safety features, which can alert drivers to unsafe situations preemptively, is expected to have a massive increase in safety. Combined with the recent ELD mandate, the number of trucking collisions is expected to drastically decline with partially autonomous trucks like the Tesla Semi.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued greenhouse gas standards. These are rolled out in three phases, ending in 2027. This will require that the trucking industry overall drastically cut down on all greenhouse gas emissions and raise efficiency. This is making green trucking more vital than ever. Electric trucks are expected to be the wave of the future due to their major reduction in carbon emissions.
One of the biggest changes of the Tesla Semi is that it runs on electricity. Tesla’s Semi is a quiet, clean truck that uses alternative fuel technology to reduce the gas and emissions that the trucking industry expends on a whole.
Other companies are also working on electric trucks to improve fuel efficiency. For example, Bosch has partnered with Nikola motors to develop a Class 8 hydrogen-electric truck by 2021. Daimler unveiled their Fuso eCanter, which is an electric light-duty truck. Cummins revealed Aeos, which is their electric Class 7 truck.
Nevertheless, Tesla is still a leader in the electric field. Tesla’s building of this sort of truck will propel forward the push towards eco-friendly trucking alternatives.
Shipment and transport systems are changing rapidly and radically. Companies are searching for new ways to move goods in a more cost-, time-, and eco-efficient manner. Tesla isn’t alone in the revolution, but they’re nevertheless forging a path that other companies are still struggling to understand.
This Tesla Semi is part of Musk’s “Master Plan Part Deux,” where he wants to expand the company’s lineup of vehicles to include all major forms of terrestrial transport including a minibus, all-electric crossover, pickup truck, and the Semi.
With these changes come two key concerns: battery life and charging stations.
Tesla announced that the truck will be able to run 300 to 500 miles on a single charge. This is one of the largest stretches of road for electric cars to move. However, some experts are concerned that the battery life will degrade with heavy use, ultimately costing companies a hefty expense. Though a loss of battery life hasn’t been a huge problem for Tesla consumer vehicles, it might be a problem for Semis, which are used so heavily and frequently.
Moreover, charging stations still aren’t that prevalent. In order for electric trucks to move nationwide, charging stations need to be as widespread as gas stations. There are approximately 168,000 gas stations in the U.S., and only 16,000 EV charging stations. It doesn’t matter how efficient the trucks are if there aren’t places to charge them.
Nevertheless, the number of charging stations will increase to meet demand as more manufacturers build these electric trucks and as more forwarders integrate electric trucks into their fleets.
Ultimately, the answer to the question “Will the Tesla Semi impact the trucking industry” is yes… but only if it makes economic sense. There’s a huge market need for this kind of electric, semi-autonomous truck. But the cost is still the driving force.
The cost of the Tesla Semi is approximately $180,000, while the average Class 8 truck costs around $120,000. This difference doesn’t seem that significant until you take into account the cost of the Tesla electric battery—which could be $100,000 alone. The sticker price could end up being over $250,000 per truck, which isn’t feasible for a number of fleet owners—especially smaller companies.
If widespread adoption is sought, Tesla and other companies are going to need to prove a strong return on investment in upcoming months.
Right now, the goal of trucking manufacturers is twofold: autonomy and efficiency.
Most companies are looking into semi-autonomous trucks. Trucks will not be 100% autonomous in the near future; drivers will still be necessary, though the role of the driver may change. Thus, trucks are becoming more comfortable and accessible for drivers, which is what the Tesla Semi works to accomplish with the larger cab and built-in tablets for administrative work.
Most importantly, autonomous trucks will allow drivers to sleep while driving. This will cut out a significant amount of travel time where the driver would need to pull over to rest. This means faster delivery times, and truck drivers can return home to their families faster.
Within the next 15 years, autonomous driving is projected to double productivity rates and cut travel times in half. These trucks will help reduce the supply chain lead time and improve customer service, all while improving the quality of life for trucking employees.
The electric aspect of the Semi is also proving more crucial than originally expected. Private and government organizations are cracking down on industries with hefty emissions. It’s important that the trucking industry as a whole address these concerns before more damage is done.
Our economy relies on the trucking industry, especially with the recent boom in the fast-paced e-commerce world. In fact, trucks move more than 70% of all U.S. freight. Trucking generated $676 billion in revenue in 2016.
Trucking is the backbone of our economy, which means it also needs to be the most technological and updated. With electric and semiautonomous trucks, the industry can expect a wave of unprecedented advancements in the next few years.