Will Anybody Actually Use Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck?

April 14, 2017, 6:10 PM UTC

Elon Musk announced on Thursday his company’s plan to unveil an electric semi truck in September. Musk said the truck, which would be an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel-powered trucks, is “seriously next level.” But will trucking companies actually use them?

It’s not yet clear how much Tesla will charge for the truck, but it may be a tough sell for companies who have fewer trucks compared to giants like UPS and FedEx. Roughly 97% of an estimated 1.3 million trucking companies operate 20 or fewer trucks, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Nearly 91% of companies operate with six or fewer.

To Craig Holt, a Staunton, Va.-based driver for transport company Shenandoah, it’s going to be a long time before an electric truck looks attractive to smaller companies. For one thing, industry experts predict the Tesla semi-truck will only be able to travel for 200 to 300 miles before needing to recharge, according to Forbes. And Holt’s freightliner typically needs 300 gallons of diesel fuel to travel 1,400 miles before refueling.

“The whole point is to travel long distances as quickly and effortlessly as possible,” Holt said.

Keenan Owens, a Fort Worth, Texas-based driver for food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith, echoed Holt’s sentiments, adding that a number of drivers nationwide are paid by cents per mile. “If my truck only works for a few hours, you’d have to do extra loads to compete,” he said, adding that frequent breaks at Tesla charging stations would subtract pay for drivers who get paid by the mile.

These added stops would also increase congestion and overall trip time, said Mike Hewitt, associate professor of information systems and supply chain management at Loyola University in Chicago. Hewitt doesn’t see how the wide-spread adoption of Tesla trucks could be done without the government paying for more charging stations—and President Donald Trump’s plan for infrastructure is still a work in progress.

Given members of Trump’s administration have spoken out against climate change, it’s unclear what the future of electric vehicles in particular looks like—even with Musk serving on the president’s economic advisory council.

Large shipping companies like UPS tend to make public commitments to sustainability, but with less visibility, Hewitt is skeptical small companies would be inclined to get behind Tesla’s truck.