Last night Tesla introduced an electric Semi it hopes will begin the process of upending the diesel standard of the trucking industry as much as electric cars are in process of upsetting the automotive world.
Shown by CEO Elon Musk, the Semi projected for 2019 production beats diesels in most performance metrics – vital to selling it to fleet buyers who do not purchase vehicles for emotional reasons, but because they are tools that serve their business, and must pencil out.
Tesla’s truck actually stands to appeal to emotions as well, however, as the vehicle with cd of 0.36 – better than a 0.38 Bugatti or 0.65-70 of a standard truck – zips un-laden to 60 mph in a scant five seconds. And, at 80,000-pounds with trailer attached, the class 8 truck will still make the 60-mph run in 20 seconds – twice as quick as a diesel, and even only 4-5 seconds longer than a Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid when driving in all-electric mode.
All that power comes from four Model 3 motors, with battery capacity unspecified, but range is to be as much as 500 miles. Musk said even with two motors out, it would still beat a diesel.
Charging is to come from solar-fed “Megachargers” which can replenish 80-percent charge in 30 minutes, about the normal time drivers might take a break, and comparable to 15 minutes to refuel a diesel truck.
Other meaningful stats include ability to traverse a five-percent grade at 65 mph fully loaded, instead of the 45 mph crawl diesel drivers may now experience, said Musk.
Inside, the avante garde big rig’s cockpit has the driver centrally perched with commanding view and flanked with two Model 3 screens to provide data for the driver.
The truck shown was a day cab model, but a longer chassis to accommodate a sleeper cab is also in the works.
Naturally, Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot semi-autonomous system is included, with an end goal of full autonomy, and ability for the trucks to platoon, or run nose-to-tail in a formation. This saves energy and promises to be competitive with freight trains, operating on principle similarly to them.
“Tesla Semi can also travel in a convoy, where one or several Semi trucks will be able to autonomously follow a lead Semi,” said Tesla.
Unstated is what regional laws would allow, as each truck plus 53-foot trailer would make for a veritable traffic-impeding road train, so expect only open-road use cases, and how this would actually play out remains to be seen.
Otherwise, safety is being touted as well, and as has been stated of Tesla’s automobiles, the goal is for the Semi to be one of the safest trucks. This would come via safety systems including a stability control system that prevents jackknifing, surround-view cameras to reduce blind spots, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning.
Price for the big truck is unstated at this time, and other open questions include how this paradigm shift will take off to supplant diesel semis.
Since solely reliant on Megachargers, the network promised to grow worldwide will be required, and as noted it all must make financial sense to fleet buyers. And while the range of 500 miles beats 200-300 speculated earlier, it is much shorter than diesel trucks which can carry upwards of 250 gallons, and return an average 5.5 mpg. Diesels with 1,000-1,400 miles range are not uncommon, so stops to recharge would of necessity be far more frequent if Tesla is contemplating long-haul driving.
Until now, other manufacturers venturing into electric powertrains have emphasized they are ideal for limited route driving just as are city buses and smaller delivery trucks and so forth. If contemplating a drive from California to New York, Tesla does have its work cut out for it, and a development path similar to the growing Supercharger network for cars would be likely.
As with Tesla’s cars, you can be sure a large part of the sales pitch will center on offset costs to counter what will likely be a sales price above a conventional diesel. These advantages include electricity at 7 cents per kWh to counter fluctuating and rising diesel prices, and reduced maintenance costs and resultant revenue-sapping downtime.
The truck even has “thermonuclear” glass to prevent a scenario today that Tesla describes as an average two windshield breaks per year. The electric powertrain itself is to provide a million miles reliability and less upkeep along the way with fewer moving parts.
With regenerative brake energy up to 98 percent, Tesla also anticipates negligible wear of the friction brakes, and no doubt Tesla will work on its value proposition proposal to miss no advantages over diesel as the electric Semi nears production.
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