Tesla unveiled its long-awaited electric, semi-autonomous semi-truck designed for long-haul shipments of goods on Thursday, at an event held at the company’s Hawthorne, California facility.
The vehicle, which will be released in 2019, is designed to run for up to 500 miles on a single charge. In addition, it will be capable of platooning, a tactic where semi-autonomous trucks automatically follow a lead truck driven by a human in a convoy to increase fuel or battery efficiency.
The vehicles are equipped with two touchscreens on either side of the steering wheel, which drivers can use to monitor the trucks while they’re platooning. However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk didn’t specify what the vehicle will cost.
It’s unclear whether the trucks will be affordable for truck operators and logistics providers, but early indications suggest interest will be positive.
- While Musk didn’t disclose the truck’s price, it’ll likely be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Similar, diesel-powered trucks can cost anywhere between $80,000 and $200,000. The Tesla truck will likely cost far more, and may be out of the price range of many logistics providers because of the technology packed into it and its electric drivetrain, which likely costs more than a diesel-powered one. Additionally, truck operators typically have thin profit margins and could be boxed out by a high price point.
- But that hasn’t deterred Walmart and trucking company JB Hunt from placing preorders of the vehicles. The retailer has already preordered 15 trucks, five for its Canadian business and 10 to keep in the US. Additionally, Walmart said it may order additional trucks for its logistics fleet, which currently counts 6,000 semi-trucks. Meanwhile, JB Hunt reserved “multiple” trucks that it will incorporate into its fleet of 12,000 trucks around the world.
- Additionally, the Tesla semi-truck’s low per-mile operating costs could persuade other companies to purchase it. While introducing the vehicle, Musk pointed out that it will cost owners only $0.85 per mile to operate the vehicle while using the platooning tactic, and $1.26 per mile while driving alone. This is significantly cheaper than the $1.51 per mile it currently costs to operate a diesel semi-truck, and could persuade other trucking companies to purchase the trucks.
However, Tesla’s long history of missing production deadlines raises questions about whether it can produce the vehicles at scale. For example, the company badly missed its production targets for the Model 3 sedan, largely because of an inability to quickly manufacture its electric batteries. That’s been particularly problematic for Tesla, as the Model 3 is the lynchpin in the company’s strategy to become a mass-market automaker. And while it has been actively working to resolve these production bottlenecks, notably through its acquisition of automated manufacturing company Perbix, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will be successful. Given that this will be the company’s first attempt at building a semi-truck, it’s highly likely that Tesla’s history of missed deadlines could continue with these vehicles.
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