Weekly Brief: Better Late than Never for Tesla BEV Truck

Tesla delivered its first batch of semi-trucks to PepsiCo, marking the start of what it hopes to be a new era for the trucking industry.

PepsiCo ordered a fleet of 100 Tesla Semis back in 2017, when, enamored with Elon Musk’s flair for the hyperbolic, PepsiCo was hoodwinked into believing that the Tesla semi would be ready for action by 2019. Here we are five years and a pandemic later. “Sorry for the delay,” said Musk at a launch party last week at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

Despite the delays, Tesla has managed to deliver what it promised from the outset: an electric Class 8 semi-truck that claims a range of 500 miles on a single charge. The range should be enough to take a driver about eight hours, the maximum a trucker can travel without stopping for a federally mandated 30-minute break. So, pausing to charge up at the 500-mile mark is convenient. Musk said that the truck recently completed a 500-mile trip from the Bay Area to San Diego carrying 81,000 pounds of freight on a single charge.

Tesla has dragged its heels long enough since 2017 that the truck won’t be the first all-electric semi-truck on the market. Daimler Trucks introduced the Mercedes-Benz eActros LongHaul. Volvo debuted the VNR Electric Semi and start-up Nikola launched the Nikola Tre BEV. However, all of these trucks max out at 300-330 miles of range and lack Tesla’s fast charging system. Tesla’s truck offers a sleek appearance with a futuristic driver seat in the middle of the cab to improve visibility and semi-autonomous technology that should be able to deliver hands-free driving in nearly all highway conditions. Its 0-60mph acceleration also claims to blow away every other truck on the road, electric or not.

In other words, the truck is poised to revolutionize the electric trucking segment just the way Tesla revolutionized electric vehicles. That’s a good thing for the planet [As Volvo admits, only depending on sustainably sourced electric supplies yet to be installed in most countries – Ed]. Class 8 semi-trucks account for just 1% of the total vehicles on the road in America and just 6% of the total number of trucks and vans but spew out 20% of all vehicle emissions. Turning these big rigs green and finding a way to charge them by way of renewable energy could make a serious impact on air quality along major US transportation routes and in urban areas where distribution centers often become hotbeds for asthma and other chronic health issues among local residents.

The Tesla truck comes at a good time for automaker, which is desperate for positive momentum heading into 2023. This year must have felt like a never-ending dumpster fire inside its HQ, what between a spate of costly recalls and a criminal investigation into misleading Autopilot advertisements, not to mention its CEO splashing billions of his fortune on a misguided acquisition of Twitter, which has caused many to wonder if Musk is: a) a right-wing zealot; b) a megalomaniac; c) an incompetent leader; or d) all of the above.

As a result, Tesla stock has plummeted to its lowest mark in three years. That’s still enough to make it the most valuable carmaker in the world but surely the company is eager for some wins that prove it can be a market leading disruptor rather than just a magnet for controversy.

Musk stays mum on how many Tesla trucks the company will manufacture next year, or exactly how much it will cost, or how many customers it already has lined up. The automaker hopes to ramp up to manufacturing 50,000 semis per year by 2024, with a 500-mile range line costing at least $180,000 per unit.

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