Elon Musk has revealed his sleek all-electric truck today, and suddenly it seems clear I wasn’t the only child poring over Usborne’s Book of the Future (1979), all those years ago.
Unveiled less than 18 months after first revealing ‘part two’ of his ‘master plan’, Musk’s Tesla Semi is not the first all-electric truck – there are some operating here in Australia – but, as seems ever the case with Tesla, it is likely to build plenty of hype.
As expected, the Tesla Semi comes across as an artist’s impression of a wedge-headed obelisk with wheels and a centre-set driver’s cab (yes, a human pilot will still be required, for now).
Tesla says the Semi will pull a frankly astonishing 5.0-second run to 60mph (97km/h) without its trailer, against 15 seconds “in a comparable diesel truck”. Sounds like this thing could take on the 1790kW/6000Nm Iron Knight…
Load the fairly conventional-looking trailer up to its 80,000-pound (36,290kg) capacity, and Tesla reckons Trucker Bob will get to 60mph in a mere 20 seconds. A comparable diesel with the same load? “About a minute”, Tesla says.
The comparisons continue, with Tesla claiming the Semi will climb a 5 per-cent grade at 65mph, “whereas a diesel truck maxes out at 45 mph on a 5% grade”.
Reeling off more benefits, the company best known for its passenger EVs notes that there is no need to shift gears or work a clutch, ensuring smooth acceleration and deceleration.
The Semi’s regenerative braking is also promised to recover a huge 98 per cent of its kinetic energy, sent back to the battery system.
“Overall, the Semi is more responsive, covers more miles than a diesel truck in the same amount of time, and more safely integrates with passenger car traffic,” the company claims.
The Semi lists a 500-mile (800km) highway-specific driving range at full capacity, and Tesla is quick to note that 80 per cent of freight in the US “is moved less than 250 miles”.
For longer trips, Tesla says its Megachargers – “a new high-speed DC charging solution” – will add around 400 miles (645km) in 30 minutes.
The Semi uses motors with technology derived from those used in the new Model 3 passenger car, and its battery system is “similar in composition” to the design used for the home and commercial Tesla energy products.
Safety is said to be assured through a strong reinforcement of the battery pack, shielding it from impact, while jack-knifing is all-but eliminated thanks to sensors that will direct torque as needed when instability is detected.
Reliability is also a selling point for the Semi, Tesla says, thanks to it having far fewer moving parts and therefore a dramatically reduced need for major servicing visits.
Likewise, the battery is promised to support repeated charging cycles “for over a million miles” (1.6 million kilometres).
Tesla adds that the low price of electricity in the US means owners could save around US$200,000 “in fuel costs alone”, although it has not said yet what buyers will pay for the Semi.
Enhanced Autopilot is also onboard, adding Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping, Lane Departure Warning, and event recording.
As for those human drivers… although still needed, Tesla suggests their number could soon be reduced, thanks to a platooning system that will allow multiple Semi trucks to autonomously follow a lead vehicle.
Production is expected to begin in 2019, and reservations are open now to American buyers at US$5000 per truck.
CarAdvice has contacted Tesla for word on local plans. We will update this story as details come to hand.