It was only a few years ago that many people dismissed electric cars as rattle-trap golf carts that could barely go on the highway. That was before Tesla demonstrated that a well-engineered electric car could beat the pants off of any gas car on the market for raw acceleration. We just don’t have those discussions any more. And as most of you reading surely know, Tesla is hardly alone. Most EVs on the market accelerate as well or better than similar cars in their classes, particularly starting from low speeds.
The conversations we have with doubters these days go more like this, “Sure those electric cars are fun to drive, but I need something BIG that can move stuff. I need to haul my boat, RV, gooseneck trailer, and no electric vehicle can do that.” Well, with the introduction of the Tesla Semi that goes 0 to 60 in five seconds (compared to 15 for a typical diesel), that conversation is about to go away, too.
But Tesla is not alone. It has merely thrown down a challenge that other truck manufacturers—who hope to stay in business in this new electrified world—are working hard to take on.
What Tesla is bringing to the market is effectively a turning point for the trucking industry. The Tesla Semi, as it is branded, is an evolutionary step in the short-haul trucking market. The Semi comes in two battery sizes: a 300-mile truck, starting at $150,000, and a 500-mile truck, starting at $180,000. Note that these are both more expensive than the average short-haul semi truck, which sells for around $75,000, but not considerably. The cost-benefit calculation tips decisively in the electric truck’s favor when the cost of fuel and maintenance are considered. Tesla estimates that Semi operators would break even on each truck within two years; after that, the Tesla Semi becomes increasingly more cost effective vice a conventional diesel or gasoline truck. For fleets, this is especially attractive, as a truck’s purchase price is a fixed cost, whereas fuel and maintenance are variables that have the ability to seriously affect a company’s profit margins.
What Tesla is bringing to the market is effectively a turning point for the trucking industry.
Several companies have already announced orders for the Tesla Semi, including DHL, WalMart, Loblaws, Ryder, and J.B. Hunt. These companies are eager to put the Semi to work as a short-haul truck, and it’s no wonder – Tesla Semi is perfect for short-haul trucking, which typically demands between 150 and 300 miles of range per day, with frequent stops. The Tesla Semi, with a range of either 300 or 500 miles, should easily meet this need.
Not surprisingly, Tesla isn’t the only one tackling electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. In early 2017, Cummins unveiled the Cummins Aeos, an all-electric short-haul “urban tractor” with base model range of 100 miles, and an optional upgrade to 300 miles. Mercedes is planning on releasing a short-haul fully electric truck with a range of at least 150 miles within the next few years. US start-ups, Chanje and Thor both introduced trucks in 2017. In fact, truck electrification is so sexy, Workhorse plans to debut its electric NGen truck at the Consumer Electronics Show, shirking a traditional stodgy trade show unveiling.
What we’re really seeing here is the electric vehicle proving its capabilities in the most demanding on-road segment: the heavy-duty truck. The Tesla Semi can travel up to 500 miles while pulling an 80,000-pound load. Suddenly, an all-electric heavy-duty pickup truck able to travel hundreds of miles on a single charge doesn’t seem so far-fetched. No longer can detractors of electric vehicles point to an EV and say, “yeah, but they’ll never make an electric vehicle that can pull my boat 500 miles to the lake.”
Why not? They just made a semi.