Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled Thursday night the company’s latest electric vehicle, a semi-truck that shares a number of parts with its new mass-market passenger vehicle the Model 3, including the same motor. Even the handles come from the Model 3.
The Thursday night reveal, a splashy VIP-filled event held on the grounds of Tesla’s design studio and Musk’s other company, SpaceX, marks a notable milestone and new level of risk (and possible reward) for the company. But in Musk’s view, the truck makes economic sense and is another part of his vision to build a sustainable energy company.
Musk’s entrance, in which he rode at a brisk clip in the new Tesla Semi (the official name), illustrates his hopes for the new product, which he says will go from zero to 60 miles per hours in 20 seconds when fully loaded. The Tesla truck will be able to travel 500 miles on a single battery charge when fully loaded and driving 65 mph, Musk said.
Reservations for the Tesla Semi are $5,000 per truck. Production of the Tesla Semi will be begin in 2019.
The semi truck will drive just like any other Tesla, Musk said, making reference to the passenger electric vehicles the Model S, Model X, and Model 3.
Tesla Semis will be charged via so-called “megachargers”—similar to Tesla’s supercharger network—which will generate the energy required to charge the battery via solar panels.
Tesla is also guaranteeing the drive train for 1 million miles, Musk said to the raucous crowd.
The company’s trucks program, which started in January 2016, is led by Jerome Guillen, the previous director of Tesla’s Model S program. Guillen is former Daimler executive who was responsible for the development of the company’s new generation of Class 8 trucks. He joined Tesla in 2010.
Some Nuts and Bolts
The Tesla Semi is a Class 8, the largest heavy duty freight trucks.
The Tesla Semi is a standard fifth-wheel and can pull any size trailer that would feasibly give the company flexibility. In North America, the Tesla Semi would be allowed to pull a trailer as long as 53 feet. With that kind of hauling capacity, Tesla will likely be the first semi truck customer. The Tesla Semi trucks would be ideal for shipping batteries and electric motors produced at Tesla’s massive battery factory near Reno, Nevada to its vehicle factory in Fremont, Calif.
The Tesla Semi has two drive axles. Each drive axle has two motors—the same electric motors in Tesla’s new Model 3 sedan.
The cab of the truck, which is where the driver sits, is pushed forward, a design that’s possible because there are none of the parts required in traditional diesel semis, such as an engine, transmission, after-treatment system or differentials. This leaves more space for the cab itself, which contains a captain’s chair and a secondary seat.
The cab also has two touchscreen displays—again a Model 3 screen—positioned on both sides of the driver. The Tesla semi has built-in connectivity that integrates directly with a fleet’s management system to support routing and scheduling, and remote monitoring, according to the company. .
The semi- truck has regenerative braking, a feature found in its electric passenger vehicles (as well as electric vehicles from other automakers) that delivers power to the battery when drivers take their foot off the accelerator.
The Tesla Semi is also outfitted with Autopilot, an advanced driver assistance system found in the company’s electric passenger vehicles. Autopilot uses sensors, cameras, and radar and software to offer several advanced driver assistance features that when combined provides what some describe as “semi-autonomous” capabilities. It’s supposed to allow Tesla vehicles to drive keep within a lane, match speed to traffic conditions, and automatically change lanes without requiring help from the driver.
The Tesla Semi represents a notable milestone and new level of risk for the company.
The trucks program represents another step in Tesla’s metamorphosis from electric vehicle automaker to sustainable energy company. Tesla’s portfolio started with electric passenger vehicles and now includes solar and energy storage.
The first part of that mission, which centered on passenger cars and solar, has been outlined on the company’s website for more than a decade. The second piece is newer—at least in the public realm—and is where the Tesla Semi comes in, along with other goals like solar roofs that are integrated with battery storage and autonomous driving capabilities.
In the weeks leading up to the reveal, Musk ramped up the teasers and promises. In one comment on Instagram, he wrote: “This is no mere ‘truck.’ It will transform into a giant robot, fight aliens, and makes one hell of a latte.”
Tesla’s electric semi-truck unveiling was originally scheduled for Oct. 26. But Musk postponed the Tesla truck unveiling so the company could focus its resources on fixing Model 3 bottlenecks and increasing battery production for Puerto Rico, which suffered heavy damage to its electrical grid from Hurricane Maria.