The introduction of the Tesla Semi showcases CEO Elon Musk’s apparent attempt to revolutionize a different sector of the transport industry. November 16, on a Thursday evening, Tesla unveiled the long-awaited Tesla Semi truck via live stream, at its design studio in California, to much applause and acclaim.
Sporting an attractive, well-designed nickel-chromium, bullet-shaped, the Boeing 747 aircraft look, the Tesla Semi reveals a divergence from the norm that can be found in the trucking industry.
With the BAMF performance acronym, Musk attempts to explain the Semi’s abilities. Without any load in the trailer, the Tesla Semi would go from 0 to 60mph in 5 seconds. With an 80,000-pound cargo weight, the Semi is expected to go from 0 to 60mph in 20 seconds. Going up a hill, up a 5% grade, while the normal diesel trucks would go 45 miles per hour, the Tesla Semi would nip the 65mph range up the same hill, carrying the maximum load. Over a 500-mile range at gross vehicle weight (GVW) and highway speed, on full charge, it is estimated that the Tesla Semi would comfortably deliver its cargo at the desired destination and return, without requiring the need to refuel. This is taking into consideration, Tesla states, that most routes are 250 miles or less.
Other appealing characteristics of the Semi are its ability to convert mechanical into electrical energy, via the working of the brakes to supply additional power to the batteries. As a result of the non-use of diesel combustion engines, the Tesla Semi would function with no transmission, emissions, scrubbers or differentials.
Safety features for the Semi include positioning for the lowest centre of gravity for the driver, the prevention of jackknifing, automatic emergency braking, automatic lane keeping, and the Semi AI’s automatic call to emergency response services in the case of driver breakdown. Through the Tesla mobile app, drivers and maintenance crew would have access to remote diagnostics, the ability to predict when the Semi requires maintenance, location tracking and instant communication with dispatch.
With Tesla planning to install solar-powered mega chargers worldwide, truck drivers can expect to have the trucks charged either at the point of movement or while making deliveries at the targeted destination. Present estimates are that the cost of electricity would be 7 cents per kilowatts per hour.
Finally, Tesla provides the guarantee that the drivetrain for the Semi would be one million miles. This means that barring unforeseen events, the Tesla Semi is expected to run for one million miles without any breakdown or downtime. This, Musk, explains is achieved through the Semi having four independent motors, with the ability to run efficiently on two.
The above features of the Tesla Semi are remarkable, and reveal workmanship of extraordinary detail. However, we would have to take into consideration their performance in real-world application. Definitely, the Semi has undergone some rigorous testing simulating situations that could occur on the field, and Tesla would no doubt have seasoned truck drivers and engineers on the advisory team. However, there are some scenarios that cannot be successfully duplicated under controlled conditions, and the only means to re-enact them is when they’ve actually occurred.
For example, the most common fear of trucking companies and truck drivers is downtime. Downtime results in not meeting deadlines, the loss of revenue, and breakdown in trust between truck companies and partners. Tesla’s approach to this is through the availability of charging stations at truck’s point of origin and point of delivery. Notably, is the ability to acquire a 400-mile charge in 30 minutes. Pending the mass purchase of the trucks, the charging stations would be accessible and easy to come by. However, with the increase in truck purchases, it is possible that truck patronage might exceed the available number of charging stations. This would automatically result in having queues at the stations, which would affect the driver or trucking company’s schedule, and cause delays, hold-ups and traffic jams in areas where the stations are.
It would be reasonable to anticipate that as the batteries on devices and appliances lose the ability to hold full power capacity, the batteries for the Tesla Semi would experience same. As the batteries in the Semi are pulling maximum 80,000-pound weight, on a regular basis, this would in turn affect the performance of the batteries. Unless alternative measures are available, these could put truck drivers in a situation where they are unable to respond timely to power failure, especially if they are in remote locations.
And then in adverse weather conditions. One trucker questions the ability of the Semi to maintain optimal performance in snowy conditions. This doubt might not be unfounded. There have been instances of decline in battery capacity in electric cars during snowfall.
The positioning of the driver at the center of the Semi provides the appearance of a race car, and is fascinating to both truck drivers and onlookers. Tesla promises that these would enhance the performance and comfort of the driver. One point to note, however, is similar to the disgruntlement at having to learn the workings of a new operating system every time a new Windows is introduced, this would require an adjustment in ergonomics for the drivers, and some time for adoption.
Finally, collisions. The Semis are going to be driven in busy roads, with other motorists and truckers, and the unpredictability of collisions exist. If the battery compartment is affected, what happens? If there is a drastic loss in power from a collision with the battery area, unlike diesel trucks, how would the truck drivers work toward resolving the issue, and how quickly would resolution reach this area?
The importance of getting the Semi right, at first go, is that approaching problems with the EVs, resolutions can be easily reached by picking up the motorist and a few passengers. However, with the trucks, that might not be so easy. There would be an 80,000-pound load to contend with.
Definitely, Tesla, through the production of the Tesla sedans and SUVS, has come good in redefining the expectations of the regular automobile. The Tesla Semi, without any doubt, has attractive and compelling features, and should be an upgrade on the diesel truck. One trucker states that using the Semi could be akin to rolling the dice at the jackpotcity casino, but it should be worth it. Thus, with all the pros and cons on the table, we wait to see the implementation of the Semi in real-life.