Tesla is already taking the world by storm with its fleet of consumer electric cars and the company’s push toward fully autonomous self-driving technology. Now, the Silicon Valley-based car maker and technology company has set its sights on the trucking industry, with the introduction of a fully electric semi-truck on the horizon. What will this mean to the trucking industry if Tesla succeeds?
With the official unveiling set for Oct. 26, Tesla fans and industry experts are speculating about the kind of impact its electric semi-truck could have on the commercial trucking industry as a whole.
The idea behind the Tesla Semi, which Elon Musk has affectionately called a “beast”, is to make it less expensive to operate than its gas and diesel counterparts on account of reduced maintenance, fuel, and insurance costs. This could result in operational cost reductions of 70% over existing trucks on the market, according to Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley.
Tesla has also gathered billion of miles of driving data from the Autopilot hardware that’s equipped on its latest Model S and Model X vehicles. Using this vast dataset, Tesla aims to create a detailed 3D map of the world that will increasingly become more detailed as fleet data is collected. This dataset allows Tesla’s Vision and artificial intelligence team to train complex algorithms for its Full Self-Driving technology, which will one day allow Tesla’s fleet of consumer vehicles and its upcoming semi-truck to recognize traffic indicators, identify pedestrians and, overall, operate on near-parity with human decision making, before exceeding it.
Being able to offer this level of automation will be transformative for entire industries, including the commercial trucking segment. Companies that have traditionally built their shipping and logistics models based on human capabilities will be able to better manage their manpower costs, while increasing efficiency at safer levels across the organization through Tesla’s automation. Combined with the fact that a Tesla Semi will emit no tailpipe emissions, in a world where regulations on emission standards are becoming increasingly more strict and manufacturers are pushing to transition toward all-electric fleets, and the industry impact of Tesla’s semi-truck becomes even more clear.
We’re still waiting for exact specifications for Tesla’s Semi like range and hauling capacity, but early reports by Reuters suggests that the electric truck will have a range between 200 and 300 miles. The relatively short range by long-haul trucking standards means that Tesla will likely target regional hauling. Any further than that would require a massive a battery that would be cost prohibitive for most companies looking to incorporate Tesla into its expense model.
Electric trucks might sound like a great innovation, but they aren’t without perils given current technology. First, electric trucks are going to require a new class of technicians to keep them primed and operating efficiently. Yes, Tesla cars are known to operate hundreds of thousands of miles without much trouble, but there’s no way to project how the wear and tear of the long haul will affect these new electric trucks.
Production will be the other big question. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is known to have an optimistic outlook when it comes to delivering his vision to the masses. But keeping to deadlines couldn’t be more important to a consumer and commercial goods industry that’s largely dependent on having a smooth running supply chain. Companies that commit to augmenting its business with a Tesla Semi or looking to transition in full to an all-electric fleet of trucks will certainly have less tolerance for delays than the general Model S, Model X, and Model 3 consumer market. This is especially the case for publicly traded companies.
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