When Elon Musk speaks the world listens. So it was no surprise that the Internet blogosphere went batty earlier this week when Musk announced that he’d finally be pulling the wraps off of his electric car division’s latest creation. Seriously, it seemed for a minute that every news site in existence was just hanging around waiting for the tweet.
While we’ve known about the rumored existence of the Tesla Semi for a long time tonight marks the first time that the company has openly shared information about it’s overall plan for the vehicle and specifications of the hardware that lives under the sleek aerodynamic fiberglass shell.
Power & Performance
Obviously the Tesla Semi is powered by electricity, that one is a given. Similar to its cars, Tesla has placed the batteries low in the chassis, located between the front and rear axles. They are protected from crash damage by steel reinforcement, which also serves to safeguard the occupants as well in the unfortunate case of a collision.
Mounted to each of the rear axles is a pair of electric motors, four in total. Each motor drives an individual wheel, allowing for both redundancy in the rare case of a motor failure and for an increased ability to utilize the company’s increasingly intelligent traction control protocol. Interestingly, these motors are the same ones used to propel the company’s newest production vehicle, the Model 3, helping to lower both cost and complexity.
Automatic transmissions have existed in the heavy trucking space for decades now, however manually shifted gearboxes are still the standard. Tesla’s semi has neither. With the motors coupled directly to the wheels there are fewer moving parts to wear out, helping to minimize service costs over the life of the vehicle. This also takes one less task off of the driver’s plate, allowing him or her to better focus on the road in front and task at hand. Acceleration from the electric motors is smooth and seamless, which in theory will afford drivers a better and safer experience merging into passenger car traffic. Regenerative braking also carries over to the big truck. By using the drive motors to slow the vehicle the service brakes are expected to have a nearly infinite life span, likely never needing replacement.
Safety & Reliability
We’re admittedly not experts in the heavy-duty trucking industry, so we’ll have to take Tesla’s word on their claim that the Semi is designed and built to a higher safety standard that any other semi on the market today. Tesla’s all-electric architecture gives the truck an ultra low center of gravity, making it exceptionally stable for such a tall vehicle. It should also come as no surprise that the Semi comes loaded with a host of electronic safety features, some modeled after the company’s cars and some specific to Semi.
Jackknifing is prevented thanks to an array of onboard sensors that can detect when this event is about to occur and take action to stop it. Cameras and sensors are found all around the vehicle, enabling features such adaptive cruise control and the company’s Enhanced Autopilot functionality. The cameras also serve as sideview mirrors and aid in object detection and blindspot monitoring. Automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist are also included.
The end goal when speaking of safety is a fully autonomous drive experience. While the truck is designed with that capability in mind, full autonomy is still a ways out from becoming a reality.
Ultimate Driver Experience
Tesla designed the Semi with the driver in mind and it shows as soon as you step foot into the cab. The truck’s large side skirts are not only there for aerodynamics, but also to keep the steps up to the cab clean when driving in less than ideal conditions. Speaking of the stairs, they lead to an unobstructed entry way that leads to a cabin spacious enough for a driver towering more than six-feet tall to easily stand. In another departure from the norm, the driver’s seating position is centered in the cab, which is more akin to something you’d find in the mining or heavy construction industry.
Storage space abounds, with compartments for stashing gear in every nook and cranny. At the rear of the cab live two roof mounted storage bins, similar to an airliners overhead compartment. The driver’s seat is comfortable and rides on a suspension, just like today’s typical truck. If a passenger needs to come along for the ride, be it for training or otherwise, there is a jump seat located behind and to the right of the driver. Both seats felt fantastic for the brief few minutes we were in the truck.
Two large touchscreen displays are mounted symmetrically on both sides of the driver. These provide easy access to navigation and vehicle information and safety systems. Built in Internet connectivity allows for easy integration with fleet management systems that control scheduling, routing, remote monitoring, and more.
By The Numbers
This is what you’ve all been waiting for, performance specs! During the unveiling Elon Musk laid down some pretty impressive figures, attributing it to what they have dubbed the Semi’s BAMF Performance. Enough talk…
The Tesla Semi will accelerate from zero to 60mph in just five seconds. Let that sink in for a minute. Fully loaded to a maximum gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds it’ll hit that same 60mph in just 20 seconds. Tesla also claims that the Semi can maintain a constant 65mph, fully loaded at 80,000 pounds, up a 5-percent grade. Range has been the subject of much speculation, and Musk cleared it up by stating that the truck will achieve 500 miles of battery range, running highway speeds, fully loaded. One way this is accomplished is with a coefficient of drag that is less than a Bugatti Chiron supercar. Tesla’s Semi clocks in with a 0.36Cd, and the Bugatti a 0.38.
Trucks will be able to regain 400 miles of range in just 30 minutes when utilizing Tesla’s still-to-be-built network of Megachargers. These Megachargers will be solar powered and provide electricity at a consistent seven cents per kilowatt-hour. Tesla also claims that total cost of ownership, figured in dollars-per-mile, will be at least 20-percent less than its diesel competition. Trucks are guaranteed to run for a million miles, and production is slated to begin in 2019.
The Bottom Line
The folks at Tesla are disruptors, architects of the extraordinary, if you will. The company’s Model S changed the way people viewed electric cars, its Model X did the same for the SUV world, and now they’ve taken aim at the trucking industry in a big way. On the surface they have created the perfect truck. It’s safe, efficient, powerful, and easy to operate. The truck also has fewer moving parts, requires no expensive exhaust aftertreatment (obviously), and will require much less maintenance over its expected lifespan. The only question that remains is will the trucking industry embrace this new technology, or push it to the side in favor of what’s comfortable.