Automotive and financial market analysts wonder what Tesla CEO Elon Musk could possibly be thinking.
Tesla is facing a real crossroads in its future as it runs behind schedule for the affordable, 220 mile range Tesla Model 3 reaching mass market. Why would the company also commit to entering a drastically different market with its Tesla Semi commercial truck launch?
There is some real market demand for it, Musk said, with truckers and fleet operators exploring their options for achieving fuel cost savings and cutting other operating expenses.
There's also steep demands being made by governments in the U.S., China, and Europe for trucks to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Tesla revealed its electric semi-truck at a long-awaited Los Angeles unveiling on Thursday night. Musk bragged that the Tesla Semi will go 500 miles per charge, with 400 of those miles capable of being charged in 30 minutes. An even faster charge may be coming, too.
The heavy-duty truck will be able to go zero to 60 in five seconds, and can hit 60 mph in 20 seconds with an 80,000 pound payload.
Musk said that it will make a real difference in the commercial truck market with its cost savings and driver comfort features. It will also save truckers a lot in maintenance costs, with Musk expecting the trucks to not break down until they pass the one million mile mark. Tesla believes in that statement enough to offer a one million warranty against possible breakdowns.
The Tesla chief also said that the semi-truck will be able to work in a three-truck convoy, reducing its cost per mile for the fleet down to $0.85 per mile, versus diesel being at about $1.25 per mile. The Tesla Semi will offer the onboard technology of "platooning," where two trucks can follow behind the leader in automated mode, benefiting from the aerodynamic force and fuel savings.
Electric trucks benefit from having fewer moving parts and no transmission of diesel after-treatment systems. Those gains make electric trucks less costly to maintain than diesel trucks, he said.
Factoring in total operating costs, with diesel trucks spending about $2.50 per gallon along with insurance, maintenance, and lease costs, the diesel truck costs owners about $1.51 per mile to operate versus about $1.26 a mile, Musk said. That assumes the Tesla Semi would be driven about 60 miles per hour with a full payload on a 100-mile route.
Musk said that truckers will be able to bring down and secure their energy cost at 7 cents per kilowatt by tapping into a Tesla megacharger. That solar-powered fast charger can supply about 400 miles of electricity in 30 minutes. Fueling up on diesel in a heavy-duty truck would take less time, but the typical 50-gallon fuel tank is going to take most of that time at the roadside fueling station.
Bloomberg estimates that electric trucks will cost operators about 12 cents a mile on maintenance. That compares to a trucking industry average of 19 cents for mile for diesel trucks, the financial data company reports.
Bloomberg said that an operator could be saving about $4,000 per year in maintenance and $14,000 in fuel when switching over from diesel to electric.
Musk didn't reveal pricing information on the Tesla Semi, but said that the total cost of operation will be very competitive with diesel trucks. Production of the Tesla Semi will begin in 2019, according to the chief executive.
The Tesla truck was revealed in a larger, long-haul version and a day cab without a sleeper. The idea here is that market demand is coming from short one-day trips with the smaller day cab, and that long-haul trips are always in demand -- especially as U.S. ports play an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy.
The average length-of-haul for truckers has dropped from about 800 miles 15 years ago to about 500 miles last year, according to the American Trucking Associations. That comes from port expansions nationwide and the e-commerce boom with companies like Amazon driving demand for shorter trips for faster delivery of consumer goods ordered online. Related: Is U.S. Energy Independence Realistic?
New customers are responding to the appeal. Walmart will be ordering 15 of the Tesla trucks, with five going to the U.S. and 10 to Canada. Loblaw, a Canadian grocery store chain, will be ordering 25 of these vehicles. The company's goal is to switch over its entire corporate fleet to EVs by 2030.
Walmart and Loblaw had followed a lead by U.S. trucking firm JB Hunt to order a number Tesla Semi trucks. Truck leasing and fleet management company Ryder Systems has announced it will also be purchasing Tesla Semis.
When it comes to electric work trucks, it won't just be about Tesla. Daimler, Cummins, and Bosch are taking electric commercial trucks very seriously in their product planning and development. Siemens has a pilot project in place testing the viability of electric trucks.
Medium-duty trucks and delivery vans are also seeing inroads from manufacturers responding to growing market demand. Startups such as Chanje, Nikola, and Wrightspeed are finding clientele, just like Tesla is doing.
By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com
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