The Tesla Semi is now ready to conquer the freeway

Andrew Hard Tech Bites

When Tesla debuts a new vehicle, the whole world watches. It happened with the Model S, it happened with the Model 3, it happened with the Model X, and it recently happened with the all-new Tesla Semi.

The Tesla Semi reveal strayed a bit from the norm, though. Yes, there were delays — the truck was originally scheduled to go live in September — and yes, the event was packed with EV diehards screaming, “Elon for president!” but the vehicle in question slightly stuck out from the comparatively svelte Tesla lineup. That’s because it’s enormous, can haul 80,000 pounds, and is quite frankly unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

The Semi’s debut kicked off in true Tesla style. A pair of trucks silently strolled up to the dais bathed in stage lighting, and Elon Musk strolled out of one of them like a true rock star. He immediately delved into the Semi’s 0-to-60-mph figure, which is undoubtedly impressive, but not really important (it does it in 5.0 seconds, by the way). What is important, however, is what the vehicle’s acceleration translates to: Massive power and efficiency.

The price you pay

Tesla updated its official site with “expected” pricing for the Semi. The base price for the truck with 300-mile range is $150,000, and you can step up to 500 miles for $180,000. Buyers will need to put down $20,000 for a reservation. The limited “Founders Series” of trucks will go for around $200,000, and a reservation will cost the same — $200,000 — and just 1,000 of these vehicles will be produced.

Compare these numbers with the average cost of a diesel-powered semi, which is around $120,000. While the Tesla truck is priced higher, the company says it will “provide $200,000+ in savings” by the time the truck hits the million-mile mark.

BAMF Performance

Put simply, the Semi blows diesel trucks out of the water in many respects. When loaded to the 80,000-pound maximum gross vehicle weight, the Semi is able to accelerate to 60 mph in 20 seconds, which leaves conventional trucks far behind. When it comes to hauling freight up 5 percent grades, the Tesla can manage 65 mph compared to a diesel’s 45 mph. All of this adds up over time. And while the Tesla won’t win the range battle — it can do 300 or 500 miles depending on configuration — its numbers are much higher than expected and more than sufficient for short delivery operations. According to Tesla, 80 percent of freight routes are shorter than 250 miles, and the plug-in rig can replenish 400 miles of range in just 30 minutes while it loads or unloads.

Tesla’s Semi isn’t just designed to be the most striking, efficient, or “cool” semitruck on the road; it’s also supposed to be the safest. Every Semi comes with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and forward collision warning as standard, and the infotainment system can “seamlessly” integrate into fleet systems. Even the powertrain adds safety. Because of the floor-mounted battery layout, the center of gravity is low, reducing the chance of rollovers. Also, each wheel gets its own independent motor, and because torque is distributed to each hub independently, jackknifing risk is severely reduced.

As if that weren’t enough, Tesla Semis will be capable of platooning, something Elon Musk referred to as Convoy Mode. What is platooning? Much like penguins in the Antarctic, platooning involves groups of vehicles huddling together on the freeway, but instead of sharing warmth, they link their safety systems together to follow each other very closely. Not only is this more efficient from an aerodynamics standpoint, when the computers handle the driving, it’s 10 times safer than when a human does it.

Prices, battery information, and power output figures weren’t specified at the Semi’s coming out party, but we’ll keep you updated closer to the vehicle’s release. Production is slated to begin in 2019.

Other players

Believe it or not, Tesla isn’t the only player in the electric semitruck arena. In August, heavy equipment manufacturer Cummins revealed the Aeos, an 18,000-lb class 7 urban hauler powered by a 140kWh battery pack. Nikola Motors is also developing a zero-emission semi called the Nikola One, which combines hydrogen fuel cells with batteries.

All-electric semis were dismissed as silly pipe dreams just a few years back, but if tonight is a sign of things to come, the world of zero-emission freight transport is about to get very crowded.