Technology

Tesla delivers first electric semi trucks – three years late

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Five years after they were first unveiled, the first Tesla Semi trucks were delivered to customers Thursday at an event at the company’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

First unveiled in concept form in 2017, the trucks were set to go into production in 2019, but were delayed for a variety of reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a global parts shortage. Representatives from PepsiCo, which reserved 100 Semis shortly after the unveiling, were on hand to receive the first batch of trucks.

Tesla says the Semi is powered by four independent motors on the rear axles, can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds and has a battery range of up to 500 miles. Prices can start at $150,000, and there have been a number of orders from companies like Walmart and FedEx in the small dozens.

Standing on a podium flanked by four Tesla Semis, two wrapped in Pepsi and Frito Lay logos, Musk spoke of the need to reduce the amount of carbon emissions caused by shipping goods around the planet. But after paying lip service to the mission to fight climate change, he soon turned to his own brand of showmanship.

“It looks sick,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on stage at the event. “You want to drive that. I mean, that thing looks like it’s from the future.” Musk later called the Semi “a beast.”

Tesla semi truck

Screen shot: Tesla

Musk ticked off a number of features that he believes will make the Semi the most efficient, most desirable and best-handling truck on the road. The truck will feature a new 1,000-volt powertrain architecture that Musk says will play a role in future product development at Tesla. The Semi has traction control to prevent jackknifing, regenerative braking for greater battery efficiency and an automatic clutch for seamless highway driving.

“It’s a step change in technology in many ways,” Musk said.

During the weekend, Musk revealed that one of Tesla’s battery-powered Class 8 semi-trucks had completed a 500-mile journey fully loaded with 81,000 pounds of cargo. The journey took place from Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, to San Diego at the southernmost tip of the state. At the event, Musk clarified that the journey was accomplished without recharging the battery.

Tesla positions the Semi as the future of trucking. But while the company struggled to get production up and running, the rest of the trucking industry has already embraced EVs. Major equipment manufacturers, such as Daimler, Volvo, Peterbilt and BYD, have been working on their own electric long-haul carriers. The Tesla Semis delivered today were the capstone of a $30.8 million project funded in part by the California Air Resource Board, according to Bloomberg. Even Nikola Motors, which has struggled with allegations of fraud and staff turnover, delivered a hydrogen-powered truck ahead of Tesla.

Still, battery electric vehicles will face major challenges, from weight restrictions to the availability of convenient charging stations, before they can be widely adopted. Truck stops, for example, are largely unprepared to handle the power needs of electric trailers and their giant batteries.

Two years ago, Bill Gates said that “even with major breakthroughs in battery technology,” electric vehicles simply weren’t ready to tackle long-haul transportation. “Electricity works when you need to travel short distances, but we need a different solution for heavy vehicles for long distances,” Gates wrote. (Musk’s reaction to Gates was to post gross memes on Twitter, of course.)

Slide showing a graph of the charging capacity of tesla's v4 charging cable, which reaches 35 amps per square millimeter, showing how the conductors are immersed in refrigerant tubes.

Tesla’s “V4” charging cable immerses the conductors in refrigerant tubes.
Image: Tesla

Talking about charging at the event, Musk revealed that Tesla has developed a new liquid-cooled charging connector that can deliver 1 megawatt of DC power. “It will also be used for Cybertruck,” Musk added to cheers from the audience. (The similarly delayed Cybertruck is expected to enter production in the second half of 2023.) He also spoke of the need to disconnect Tesla’s Superchargers from the grid to ensure they can continue to provide power during a power outage.

Trucks are a key part of Musk’s “Masterplan Part Deux,” in which he pledged to expand the company’s vehicle offerings to cover “major forms of land transportation,” including a semi-truck.

At the event, Musk spoke about Tesla’s current product lineup, which has been criticized as old compared to other automakers regularly releasing refreshed versions of previous models. Standing in front of an image of Tesla’s vehicle lineup, including the forthcoming Cybertruck and a shrouded vehicle labeled “robotaxi,” Musk said Tesla was not like other car companies.

So what is our actual mission? Our actual mission is to accelerate the advent of renewable energy,” Musk said. “So that’s why we’re making this wide range of cars that don’t really make sense from a brand standpoint.”

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