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Does an electric semi truck make sense today?

Discussion in 'Future Vehicles' started by ratsbew, Jun 21, 2014.

  1. ratsbew

    ratsbew Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Commercial vehicles obviously have different price dynamics than a consumer vehicle. For a semi truck that consumes upward of $50,000 in diesel per year it can make sense to have high upfront costs if the operating cost is low.

    Trucks are already very heavy and could accomodate perhaps 1000kWh of batteries under the frame and under the hood.

    Two of Tesla's current 416HP traction motors would give class leading power assuming that they could be kept cool.

    Efficient solar cells covering the top of a 53 foot trailer could produce several kilowatts of power that would add a non-trivial amount of range.

    Is there a possible business case for a current truck builder to partner with Tesla to develop an all EV semi? Truck stops are the perfect location for super-high powered Superchargers that can supply several hundred KW of power to the battery.
  2. roblab

    roblab Active Member

    Jul 15, 2008
    Angwin (Napa Valley) CA
    I would figure that the majority of the batteries would go under the floor of the trailer. The more trailer, the more power. I would imagine that the floor of a trailer (obviously the floor would be above the batteries, protecting them or allowing them to be pulled out for quick change, perhaps by the trucking company) that was maybe 40 feet long, could handle eight batteries sitting side ways next to each other. That's 680 kWh there. Add to that maybe 4 or so under the driver, the sleeper, above the duals under the hitch, there's another 340 kWh. A second trailer? Doing long hauls? Another 640. Instead of quick charging, figure quick changes, with the company storing the batteries. The guy goes in for a meal, and in less time than it takes to fill a 600 gallon tank of diesel, you're on the road again.

    The heavy weights don't require a lot to keep them going. And of course, driving up hill, you get regen on the down hill side. The motor would be bigger, of course, but you can't beat an electric for torque (as in diesel electric trains). The cab would be redesigned so the driver would sit lower, no big hood out in front, just aerodynamic slope up to the trailer. You see what Wal Mart is already trying to do. Eliminate the diesel, and it only gets better.

    Sure, you could do better taking the train (electrified), but from the train to the depot, electrics are moving in already.

  3. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

    Mar 8, 2012
    The main problem is battery weight. Trucks have a maximum legal axle load (varies by jurisdiction to some extent). Every kg that the vehicle weighs is one less kg that can be charged for. Some types of load cube out so volume is the limiting factor. Electric could work for those, but they are in the minority.
  4. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

    Dec 8, 2007
    Short haul electric can work (and is being commercially used right now in ports and short routes in cities). Long haul, not yet. Like jerry says, in most cases, weight matters more than volume.
  5. Burt Court

    Burt Court Member

    Feb 21, 2014
    Southern California
    Those thousands of tractors used in ports around the world may be the first target. They idle most of the time, are diesel, never need to go over 15 miles per hour, and probably never leave the area where the containers are shipped and dropped. Bet less than 100 horsepower would work. There is already a major ship-to-shore power plant available
  6. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

    Mar 8, 2012
    Sounds like a great match.
  7. drees

    drees Active Member

    Jun 23, 2009
    San Diego
  8. constraint

    constraint Member

    Sep 17, 2012
    We had a pretty good discussion on this topic about a year ago. Would suggest taking a look at Class 8 trucks going down mountains with full battery

    Pretty much came to the conclusion that it doesnt work for long haul but maybe with some battery weight reductions could make it work with swapping.
  9. Larry93428

    Larry93428 Member

    Feb 26, 2014
    Cambria California, United States
    Pick-up trucks have such high beds. Loading hay bales for instance takes a lot of lifting.
    It would be nice if battery power can get the load lower, the need is there.
  10. brandonmbeard

    brandonmbeard Member

    Aug 27, 2013
    West Chester, Ohio, United States
    AMP Electric Vehicles is doing this for intra city driving. Basically making electric trucks for predefined routes. UPS or FedEx are primary targets.
  11. yobigd20

    yobigd20 Well-Known Member

    Oct 28, 2012
    Skaneateles, NY
  12. evme

    evme Member

    Jul 5, 2013
    Don't know about pure electric just yet(for long distance), but with all the time these trucks spend idling and regenerative braking potential, an EREV or Hybrid would work well for the time being.
  13. Reykjavik

    Reykjavik Member

    Dec 9, 2013
    New York
    I don't think it makes sense to do trucks for long hauls at all. Update the railroads to be more robust and all electric and it will be much more efficient.

    Anyway, I don't think the value proposition is quite there for trucks. There is a decent chance that an electric medium truck bought today would cost less overall than an equivalent gas truck, but that is based on the probability of gas prices going up, and the probability of maintenance costs being relatively low for EVs. That sort of uncertainty means people won't change. Once the picture becomes a little more clear and the prices drop a little more, then it will work, and once it works once it should catch on pretty quickly.
  14. tander

    tander Active Member

    Jul 23, 2012
    If I owned a company that did short range shipping or something I would definitely be thinking about switching my fleet over to electric right now, especially if my business was only during the daytime. But for long haul trucking it seems like the batteries/charging aren't quite there. There are limits on how much weight each axle of trucks can bear and the batteries might dig into that too much, but who knows, maybe there is a clever way of configuring things right now. But fast forward 5-10 years I'm looking forward to seeing electric f150s, rv's, and long haul trucks, replete with solar panel roofing and probably other cool stuff that will pop up. There are people working on f150 type ev's right now, even that former CEO from gm, so I would imagine small trucks might be a stepping stone for the larger ones.
  15. TEG

    TEG TMC Moderator

    Aug 20, 2006
  16. Red Sage

    Red Sage The Cybernetic Samurai

    Jul 6, 2014
    Los Angeles CA
    OP... Short answer: YES.

    I wrote this a few months ago on the subject:

    Hauling Where the Heart Is...

    One thing I would like to see Tesla Motors do is to further the clean, renewable energy initiative of the company. Before long, naysayers will begin to note, as Tesla's sales increase, that they still use fossil fuel vehicles to ship and deliver their cars in the United States of America. I propose heading off that criticism by doing the unthinkable.

    Tesla should create a line of long-haul semi-trucks that are fully electric. A Tesla Road Truck. They would be used solely by their own company. They would not be offered for sale to anyone else. They would be driven by Tesla employees, who were experienced long-haul drivers.

    It would have to be comfortable, aerodynamic, and efficient. I imagine something along the lines of the better looking trucks on the road:

    Some might say it would be better to work with one of those manufacturers to jointly develop the Tesla Road Truck. I don't think so. It's better to be completely independent. This is about proving that it can be done, proving that it is feasible, proving they can do it alone. Proving the technology can be not only competitive, but superior.

    The trucks would need their own separate charging infrastructure to accommodate their size and power needs. That could be arranged two ways. Tesla could forge an alliance with a company such as the TA Travel Centers of America to place truck specific charging stations at their truck stops. If that were not possible, Tesla could build out their own, private lots across the nation to act as Tesla Waypoints for charging their trucks in transit across the nation.

    What I like about setting up at the truck stops is that they are ubiquitous, across the country. Tesla could just lease space on site to install their own Superchargers. TA would get the added advantage of having solar panels installed at their locations in sunny Southern states, such as Arizona, Texas and others, to offset their own reliance on the electrical grid.

    Beyond that, truckers love to talk about their rigs, as a matter of tradition. Tesla owners do that just as much as anyone else. So Tesla's drivers would become ambassadors of the technology as well, direct to their peers. And Tesla Motors could use their input to gauge interest, occasionally having test drive events for the trucks as well, hosted by the TA Truck Stops. Even if Tesla decided not to ever sell the trucks or go into full production of them, it might be just enough to convince truckers to beg for the technology from their traditional truck manufacturers.

    If they had to build Tesla Waypoints, that would not be so bad. Logistics could be handled rather easily by internal systems. They could be sure that security for the cargo was aptly monitored. There could be sleeping quarters on site, along with provisions for food, drink, and entertainment during a driver's down time. In fact, it might be a good idea to set up these Waypoints at strategic locations, even if they did have a good deal with TA.

    It might not be necessary for 100% of Tesla's deliveries and transports to be made with these trucks. If perhaps 30 to 50 of their trucks were on the road, that might be enough to get the word out. If Tesla intends to release a pickup truck around 2020 or so, it would be a good idea to have these road trucks in public view around 2017. That would be just in time for the ramp up of production for the Model E, so it would get that much more publicity. And that publicity would increase anticipation for the pickup truck, call it the Model P.

    To that end, the trucks would need to have superior range. I'd manage that by co-opting the traditional design aspects of semi-trucks:

    • The large ones typically have three axles. So you'd might as well have three motors, working in unison.
    • There are usually fuel tanks on either side of the cabin, running nearly the full distance between front and rear wheels. Those could house stacked battery packs, formed to fit that space.
    • Underneath the cabin and what is typically the engine bay on trucks, you'd have the usual 'skateboard' arrangement of battery packs, from front to rear.
    • In addition to all that, you'd make use of the space behind the truck cab, by storing battery packs vertically, behind the sleeper area.
    • Yes, the engine bay would instead be a ridiculously large frunk.
    • Naturally, the car carriers they would tow would be properly aerodynamic, enclosed, and covered with Tesla logos.

    With those many places to store batteries, I think it would not be hard at all to achieve a cruising range, under load, of around 1200 miles on a full charge. That said, knowing that most trucking services govern their vehicles by limiting them to 55-65 MPH max, I took that into consideration as well. Assuming 12 hours on the road, at 65 MPH, that comes to 780 miles. So if someone were to hit the road at a 90% charge, which allows 1080 miles range, they could drive 780 miles and still have a 20% charge remaining -- a 300 mile range buffer. They would park at a TA Center, or Tesla Waypoint, to charge while they rest. If it were a rush shipment, a different Tesla driver would attach their rig to the load and continue, relay style.

    Yes, I know... This would cost a lot of money. But it is mostly for the sake of marketing. It would still cost less than running multiple spots on Super Bowl broadcasts over the next six years. And the trucks would likely be on the road 20-25 years. That makes the expense more than worth it.

    When I wrote the above, I was thinking of a long hauler truck that could be used with a standard car carrier, or any other trailer. simon_heath suggested that Tesla could have their own specialized car carrier to accompany the electric big rig. He noted that batteries could be stored under that trailer as well, to give that much more extended range to the truck. I think that is a pivotal idea!

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