Being the electric car maker’s first entry into the trucking industry, the stakes are high for the Tesla Semi. Just like the Model 3, Tesla could revolutionize the trucking industry if the Semi proves to be a success. The company is aiming to start production of the Semi sometime in 2019 — a target that exhibits Elon Musk’s tendency to adopt aggressive manufacturing timelines. That said, if Tesla’s progress in the Model 3 ramp is any indication, there is a good chance that the Semi could be Tesla’s first vehicle to not run into major problems when it starts production.
Tesla is no stranger to missed production deadlines. In 2007, Tesla announced that it has plans to build 10,000 of the then-mythical Model S sedan annually starting in 2009. Production was ultimately delayed, and the vehicle was introduced in June 2012. The Model X experienced an even more significant delay, with deliveries starting on September 2015 instead of its initially planned early 2014 release. Tesla’s latest vehicle, the Model 3, has experienced delays as well — an ordeal that CEO Elon Musk aptly dubbed as “production hell.” When the handover of the first 30 Model 3 was held last year, Musk announced that Tesla is aiming to produce 5,000 units of the electric sedan a week by the end of 2017. Tesla was only able to hit that target at the end of Q2 2018.
Considering Tesla’s history and reputation for delays, does this mean that the Semi would follow the same fate? Most likely not. On the contrary, the Semi might very well be the first Tesla vehicle that would not experience a delay as bad as its predecessors. Tesla might miss its 2019 target for the truck given that the timeline was announced by a very optimistic Elon Musk, but once manufacturing begins, there is a good possibility that the Semi would not take the company to “production hell” like the Model 3.
When Elon Musk unveiled the Semi last November, he pitched the vehicle as an electric truck that can disrupt the trucking industry. With stunning performance specs such as a 0-60 mph time in 5 seconds flat, a capability to haul 80,000 lbs of cargo, and a range of 500 miles per charge for the Long Range version, the Semi is a serious long-hauler. These impressive specs aside, one thing that made the Semi quite remarkable was the fact that it shared components with the Model 3, from its four electric motors to the two touchscreens on the driver’s console. A video of the Semi shared earlier this year on YouTube even showcased how the truck features an air vent similar to the Model 3.
Tesla is not done with the Semi either. As testing of the vehicle continues, Tesla is rolling out improvements to the truck’s design. Back in May, Elon Musk stated that the Semi’s range would be closer to 600 miles per charge. During the Q2 earnings call, Elon Musk also teased a new battery module “that’s actually lighter, better, (and) cheaper.” These new modules are expected to start production sometime in Q1 2019, which could result in vehicles being lighter and having more range — advantages that are pertinent for the electric long-hauler.
Tesla’s production ramp for the Model 3 proved to be a classic tale of trial and error, with a dash of automation-driven hubris thrown in. Over the past year, the company learned a lot of lessons as it evolved from an upstart automaker into a more mature car company. When Tesla starts the Semi’s production, there’s a good chance that it would no longer be a company that adopts unrealistic release timelines. Instead, it would be an automaker that has gained experience over years of missed deadlines. The fact that the Semi shares components with the electric sedan would be a given plus, but the real boost in the manufacturing of the electric truck would likely be caused the expertise that Tesla gained when it tackled the challenge of the Model 3 ramp.
The market for the Tesla Semi is vast, and so far, reactions from the market are encouraging. During the company’s Q1 2018 earnings call, Elon Musk and CTO JB Straubel noted that Tesla has around 2,000 reservations for the vehicle. Tesla has also acquired orders from companies such as PepsiCo, FedEx, and UPS in the United States and Bee’ah from the United Arab Emirates, to name a few.