Welcome to Tesla Motors Club
Discuss Tesla's Model S, Model 3, Model X, Model Y, Cybertruck, Roadster and More.
Register

Forbes: Tesla’s Electric Semi Is Almost Here, But Elon Musk Hasn’t Shared Some Heavy Details

Tesla’s Electric Semi Is Almost Here, But Elon Musk Hasn’t Shared Some Heavy Details

Alan Ohnsman
Forbes Staff
I follow technology-driven changes that are reshaping transportation.
Tesla_semi_Musk

Tesla says it will deliver its first electric Semis to Pepsi on Dec. 1, 2022.

TESLA
Hyperbole and big promises are to be expected when Elon Musk promotes a new product and based on his description of the soon-to-arrive Tesla Semi, the billionaire entrepreneur is sure he can disrupt the heavy trucking market. But while he touts the electric big rig’s long driving range, other details that matter a lot to trucking companies are unknown: What does the Semi weigh (without cargo) and can it haul the same loads as diesel trucks the same distance?

Musk intends to personally deliver the first battery-powered Semis to Pepsi on Dec. 1, he said during Tesla’s third-quarter earnings call this month. Production of the vehicles will ramp up throughout 2023, and if all goes well, the Austin-based company could supply 50,000 units a year to North American customers by 2024, he told analysts and investors.


There’s “no sacrifice to cargo capacity, 500-mile range” per charge, Musk said. “Just to be clear, 500 miles with the cargo … on level ground. Not up. The point is it's a long-range truck and even with heavy cargo.”


It sounds good, but five weeks before the first deliveries the lack of publicly available information about the electric truck’s hauling capabilities and weight—which can’t exceed 82,000 pounds under U.S. road regulations—could give big fleet operators pause before placing an order. An image of Tesla’s Semi on its website shows a vehicle that weighs 82,000 pounds, including its load, without indicating whether it’s the 500-mile version Musk mentioned or a lighter 300-mile Semi. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for clarification.


“Before somebody signs a purchase agreement, they're gonna say, ‘how much does the base vehicle weigh?’” said Chuck Price, whose firm AI Kinetics provides advisory services to logistics companies. “That’s kind of a big deal.”


“Before somebody signs a purchase agreement, they're gonna say, ‘how much does the base vehicle weigh?’”
Chuck Price, president, AI Kinetics
Electric trucks, whether powered by batteries or hydrogen, hold great promise for reducing tailpipe and carbon pollution, but they’re considerably more expensive than diesel models. Tesla doesn’t provide detailed pricing information for the Semi, but industry analysts expect it to be more than double the price of popular big rigs such as Freightliner’s Cascadia, which goes for about $160,000. The real-world performance of electric trucks in hauling heavy loads day in and day out over long distances, how long their giant batteries last and the true time and cost required to keep them powered up are unanswered questions as Tesla, Daimler, Volvo, startup Nikola and other companies start rolling them out to fleet customers.


Musk’s reference to his truck’s cargo “capacity,” for example, isn’t particularly meaningful because it’s an industry term referring to volume, measured in square feet or meters, rather than weight. So for Pepsi, the trucks it’s getting may have no difficulty hauling crates of potato chips from its Frito-Lay unit but may not be able to carry full loads of much heavier Pepsi soda.

“It's probably smarter to transport potato chips,” said Glen Kedzie, vice president and environment and energy counsel for the American Trucking Associations. With such light cargo, “you're going to get a longer range out of the battery,” he pointed out, and you’d be able to haul the same amount of product as a diesel truck. Maximizing battery life will be important, given that a Tesla Semi’s price tag may be $400,000, he said.

Musk’s truck arrives five years after its unveiling in November 2017, and three years after an initial target of getting it on the road by 2019. Tesla touts its quick acceleration, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 20 seconds (Musk said it would be just five seconds when he first showed it off), but speed doesn’t matter to fleet operators as much as payload capacity and the cost-per-mile to operate.

Trucking companies will need to be more strategic in how they deploy electric trucks because they’re so heavy. In fact, electric big rigs are likely over 5,200 pounds heavier than diesel trucks, according to a study by the University of California, Davis.

That’s an issue because of federal weight limits, which are designed to protect roads. Federal road rules limit the total weight of diesel trucks and their cargo to no more than 80,000 pounds to avoid potential damage to highways and bridges. Battery-, hydrogen- and natural gas-powered semis get an additional 2,000-pound weight exemption to encourage the use of cleaner vehicles, but that’s probably not sufficient in the case of the Tesla Semi. Electric big rigs simply can’t carry as much cargo and stay within federal road limits.

“There’s going to be a lot more calculations to figure out what type of product should be transported and what type of power source vehicle should be used to maximize efficiency,” Kedzie said.

Makers of electric trucks, including Nikola, are lobbying for a higher weight limit for their vehicles but there’s concern that could damage roads. “We're probably going to see more potholes” if weight rules are further eased, said Price, who previously worked for truck tech startups including TuSimple and Peloton Technologies

Keeping large fleets of big electric trucks powered up also presents challenges for trucking companies. At a minimum, the hours needed to recharge them means truck drivers will be idle for longer periods than if they’re getting diesel at a truck stop. And even getting the charging infrastructure they’ll need may also be a headache, said Brian Daugherty, chief technology officer for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.

For fleets considering battery trucks, “the first consideration is the availability and cost of power, and then the timing of when your utility can accommodate your request,” Daugherty said. Based on discussions with utilities, it can take up to 18 months to get the 3 megawatts or more additional power needed to operate heavy-duty chargers at a truck depot, he said. “It’s quite a dance.”


Tesla_Semi_weight

TESLA

“You don't want to have a bunch of trucks show up, think you're gonna get power installed right away but then find out it's 18 months away,” Daugherty said. “That would be a mess. I think we're going to have a lot of messes like that.”

Musk also claimed Tesla might be shipping as many as 50,000 electric Semis to North American customers in 2024, a volume that would make the brand one of the region’s top suppliers within little more than a year of its first shipments. Only truck builders Freightliner and Paccar currently ship more big trucks in North America. But given the weight and charging challenges and unknown real-world performance of battery trucks, that may not be realistic.

Meanwhile, trucking fleets will be gauging every aspect of using them: power costs; driver satisfaction; safety records; maintenance records; range; and charge times, said Kedzie.

“We’ll start analyzing the data to see if our numbers line up with the numbers Tesla or any other manufacturer is putting out there,” he said. “This is a very savvy industry and they will come up with those numbers—and not be afraid to speak up either as to what the results are.”
 

Rocky_H

Well-Known Member
Feb 19, 2015
8,771
11,444
Boise, ID
I'm kind of cringing at this author's lack of research or understanding:
Tesla touts its quick acceleration, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 20 seconds (Musk said it would be just five seconds when he first showed it off),
He says this like it's a "gotcha" bait and switch thing, like 5 seconds was claimed, but then, oops, it turned out to be 20. That's not it. Both numbers were specified in the debut. 5 seconds was for just the rig with no load, and 20 was for the full load with trailer.

And with this?
Tesla doesn’t provide detailed pricing information for the Semi, but industry analysts expect it to be more than double the price of popular big rigs such as Freightliner’s Cascadia, which goes for about $160,000.
They did quote exact prices: $150,000 and $180,000. Whether they are able to hold to those or not now, we will still have to wait and see though.

 
I owned a significant portion of and managed a trucking company previously, before selling out. Still run just one truck with a driver as a side hustle.

Now I work in the industry and have access to actual EV truck pricing and specs from other manufacturers.

The Tesla Semi numbers just don't add up. If they did, RIP everyone else. So maybe Musk has in fact made batteries that are 3x denser at 1/2 the cost, guess we'll see. If so, scaling those numbers, where is my $35K MY?

Many of the numbers bantered around, in the video or the post above mine, just don't perfectly reflect reality.

But beyond the maintenance schedules and fuel costs which are very real, if not entirely accurate, and assuming you have the perfect haul (i.e. lightweight and well under legal payload, flat land, low wind, same short route every day with a 7 figure charging station at each end, etc.) for an EV Semi there really are other considerations. Primarily the largest cost is driver wages, plain and simply. Drivers operate under certain 'Hours of Service' rules to prevent sleepiness and so on that determine when they can drive and when they can't.

If the Tesla Semi range was semi-accurate (and I have reason to believe it'll be 30-40% lower than advertised) you really have a situation where to prevent paying a driver to just sit you'd likely have to have 2 Tesla Semi's, one per leg of the journey, to keep the driver productive and within his Hours of Service regulations. This alone greatly changes the cost equation. Of course, self-driving on dedicated routes could solve this particular issue.

Also, EV cars are not yet as reliable or as cheap to operate as an economy ICE car over their lifetime. There is no reason to think that the maintenance on an EV Semi would actually cost less than an ICE Semi. Modern diesel trucks are actually quite reliable for the first 400-600K miles, and frankly the things that fail are rarely related to the diesel engine and most are in fact the result of driver misuse.

Cummins is releasing a CNG X15 in 2027 to meet the very strict emissions standards required on 1-1-27 that provides nearly the energy density and power of diesel fuel but has zero emissions equipment attached to the engines as CNG burns completely clean and requires none. The engine is quiet, cheap and simple, and requires little in the way of specialized equipment or procedures. CNG transport pipes run along pretty much every major roadway in the USA and CNG will be easy for any current station to bring in. IMO, this will be the near term (5-25 year) solution until battery density increases substantially.

I am very Pro -EV and do in fact think it's the future, of personal transportation. But let's not forget that current EV's carry the energy equivalent of just a few gallons of gas/ diesel, such is the poor energy density of current battery technology. Physics dictates that to move really heavy weights requires lots of energy, there is no getting around that. Tesla will speed limit (there goes that driver wages thing again), run aero trailers, etc to maximize range, but this fits a very limited circumstance.

My truck today will be on the road and loaded at nearly all times for approximately 550 miles on a non-standardized route in hilly terrain. It's a dump truck, which is inherently not very aero. The entire profit of the thing rests on the last 3-4 tons of payload the truck can haul. 3-4 tons that would be lost to battery weight, not to mention physical cargo capacity, etc. If you solved every other problem, just the tonnage loss in a low margin business would make it a money loser. I don't haul potato chips after all, and in fact, not many people do.

The future of green transportation is multifaceted. EV's for personal transportation, but probably other solutions for high energy requirements until batteries or solid state improves.
 
  • Disagree
Reactions: Electroman

Rocky_H

Well-Known Member
Feb 19, 2015
8,771
11,444
Boise, ID
The Tesla Semi numbers just don't add up. If they did, RIP everyone else. So maybe Musk has in fact made batteries that are 3x denser at 1/2 the cost, guess we'll see. If so, scaling those numbers, where is my $35K MY?
I will not pretend to have your expertise in the trucking industry, but I can address that last part about the $35K Model Y. It's totally irrelevant. Tesla is a business. They are charging what the market will bear with great profit margins, and their sales still haven't slowed down, and they still are trying to scale up production to keep up with demand.

They have no reason to lower their prices right now. Why would they reduce their profit on the Model Y by selling at cost because of cheaper batteries? So on the passenger vehicles they have no reason to offer low prices when they are doing so well in that market. In a different market of trucking, maybe they are willing to take a lesser profit margin to gain entry into that market segment. Maybe you're right that the semi prices are a bit of a loss at the beginning because they are expecting it to get better in the next few years, and they can support it with profits from the passenger vehicle market. Plenty of businesses do things like that.
 
The MY comment was mostly a joke, but the point remains that Tesla is not able to sell an MY for $35K and make similar great margins, well then it's just not possible with current battery tech.

When you scale that to a Semi, everything Musk has quoted appears unlikely with the current cost of batteries.

The battery pack alone cost as much as the entire teased cost of the T Semi, for example. Before you include an actual heavy duty chassis, computers, etc to go along with it.

The thing is, IF the Tesla actually did exactly what it is claimed to do, then $350K would be a completely reasonable cost for that vehicle. It wouldn't have to be $150 or 180 or whatever. If the Semi had the same payload capacity, 500 miles for real world range at 65mph, and the same reliability, the fuel savings would be enough to justify the cost difference quite easily.
 

Rocky_H

Well-Known Member
Feb 19, 2015
8,771
11,444
Boise, ID
but the point remains that Tesla is not able to sell an MY for $35K and make similar great margins, well then it's just not possible with current battery tech.
How is that a point? There is no company that would be able to cut the price of a product by 40% and still have the same profit margin. This is just not business sense.

The battery pack alone cost as much as the entire teased cost of the T Semi, for example. Before you include an actual heavy duty chassis, computers, etc to go along with it.
I am really curious how you know their actual internal costs of their batteries, which would be the highly confidential secret sauce.

If the Semi had the same payload capacity, 500 miles for real world range at 65mph, and the same reliability, the fuel savings would be enough to justify the cost difference quite easily.
If the Tesla Semi range was semi-accurate (and I have reason to believe it'll be 30-40% lower than advertised)
That second part you mentioned sounded off to me. They have been doing real testing with their prototypes the last few years. If they were seeing that range was so drastically short of their announced values, they would have started to temper expectations already. Instead, they have been reiterating them strongly, that the range is real, with full 80,000 pound loads. So yes, if that comes through, and can meet the use cases, per mile savings might make it worthwhile. In general, going with a lot of Tesla's history, they usually deliver on product capability, but are pathetically inaccurate on meeting Musk's ridiculous big mouth optimistic schedules.
 
We'll see very soon won't we?

Current best estimates for Tesla's internal battery cost by kwh are available by Google. Obviously, it's not exact.

Tesla cars drop 20%+ range just by turning the AC on! Tesla's are nearly always 30% optimistic on their range and will always claim 'well under perfect conditions...'. I have news: Trucking ain't 'under perfect conditions', ever!
 
I owned a significant portion of and managed a trucking company previously, before selling out. Still run just one truck with a driver as a side hustle.

Now I work in the industry and have access to actual EV truck pricing and specs from other manufacturers.

The Tesla Semi numbers just don't add up. If they did, RIP everyone else. So maybe Musk has in fact made batteries that are 3x denser at 1/2 the cost, guess we'll see. If so, scaling those numbers, where is my $35K MY?

Many of the numbers bantered around, in the video or the post above mine, just don't perfectly reflect reality.

But beyond the maintenance schedules and fuel costs which are very real, if not entirely accurate, and assuming you have the perfect haul (i.e. lightweight and well under legal payload, flat land, low wind, same short route every day with a 7 figure charging station at each end, etc.) for an EV Semi there really are other considerations. Primarily the largest cost is driver wages, plain and simply. Drivers operate under certain 'Hours of Service' rules to prevent sleepiness and so on that determine when they can drive and when they can't.

If the Tesla Semi range was semi-accurate (and I have reason to believe it'll be 30-40% lower than advertised) you really have a situation where to prevent paying a driver to just sit you'd likely have to have 2 Tesla Semi's, one per leg of the journey, to keep the driver productive and within his Hours of Service regulations. This alone greatly changes the cost equation. Of course, self-driving on dedicated routes could solve this particular issue.

Also, EV cars are not yet as reliable or as cheap to operate as an economy ICE car over their lifetime. There is no reason to think that the maintenance on an EV Semi would actually cost less than an ICE Semi. Modern diesel trucks are actually quite reliable for the first 400-600K miles, and frankly the things that fail are rarely related to the diesel engine and most are in fact the result of driver misuse.

Cummins is releasing a CNG X15 in 2027 to meet the very strict emissions standards required on 1-1-27 that provides nearly the energy density and power of diesel fuel but has zero emissions equipment attached to the engines as CNG burns completely clean and requires none. The engine is quiet, cheap and simple, and requires little in the way of specialized equipment or procedures. CNG transport pipes run along pretty much every major roadway in the USA and CNG will be easy for any current station to bring in. IMO, this will be the near term (5-25 year) solution until battery density increases substantially.

I am very Pro -EV and do in fact think it's the future, of personal transportation. But let's not forget that current EV's carry the energy equivalent of just a few gallons of gas/ diesel, such is the poor energy density of current battery technology. Physics dictates that to move really heavy weights requires lots of energy, there is no getting around that. Tesla will speed limit (there goes that driver wages thing again), run aero trailers, etc to maximize range, but this fits a very limited circumstance.

My truck today will be on the road and loaded at nearly all times for approximately 550 miles on a non-standardized route in hilly terrain. It's a dump truck, which is inherently not very aero. The entire profit of the thing rests on the last 3-4 tons of payload the truck can haul. 3-4 tons that would be lost to battery weight, not to mention physical cargo capacity, etc. If you solved every other problem, just the tonnage loss in a low margin business would make it a money loser. I don't haul potato chips after all, and in fact, not many people do.

The future of green transportation is multifaceted. EV's for personal transportation, but probably other solutions for high energy requirements until batteries or solid state improves.
You have certainly said a lot without saying anything, I was entertaining your thoughts until you say you run a dump truck, what a comparison kind of like a Lamborghini to a Prius. I too am in the “industry“ and actually drive a road truck and pricing isn’t an industry secret for the current models available, I don’t know if what’s coming is exactly as advertised or not but I’m certainly willing to wait and see, it’s not likely PepsiCo will take any BS on the issue you know with shareholders and all. Many people just love beating the hell out of the dead horse, but refuse to take on facts (which are not present yet) in regards to the semi. Maybe someday you can get a road truck and get some real comparisons.
 
What are your numbers?

It would take way too long to provide actual average operating expenses, and even then it would be a guess as I don't run a 100+ truck OTR fleet with perfect record keeping.

That said, the prices given for new diesel semis, and for the competitors EV semis is way off. MPG numbers and service intervals and costs are way off (at times benefitting the ICE actually), the effect on payload is ignored in most calculations, and most importantly Service Hours. I'd also add that in this application (hauling potato chips at 55 mph) a diesel semi would get approximately 10 mpg. We already get over 8 mpg hauling 80K at 65 mph quite consistently.

What I'd realistically expect, even with the 55mph Semi speed limit in CA (which greatly improves range) is a $350K Tesla Semi that can do 360-400 miles (enough for 1 driver shift at only 55 mph max speed), because it's loaded with potato chips. And in that application the Tesla Semi could work quite well and would be a solid value. For sure CA will be throwing 6 figure grant money at EV Semis and so one could argue that Musk's intial pricing would be accurate, once the rebates are taken in to account. Other EV Semis are already being sold, priced from $400-500K. The argument was made about 'why would Tesla sell the MY for less money when they can sell everyone they already can make. Well I'd ask, why would Tesla sell the Semi at 1/3 the cost of the competitors?

That's my best guess knowing the industry and I suspect my 'guess' is closer than the numbers bantered around by Tesla which is well known to exaggerate specs, pricing, availability, etc.
 
  • Disagree
Reactions: wipster

About Us

Formed in 2006, Tesla Motors Club (TMC) was the first independent online Tesla community. Today it remains the largest and most dynamic community of Tesla enthusiasts. Learn more.

Do you value your experience at TMC? Consider becoming a Supporting Member of Tesla Motors Club. As a thank you for your contribution, you'll get nearly no ads in the Community and Groups sections. Additional perks are available depending on the level of contribution. Please visit the Account Upgrades page for more details.


SUPPORT TMC
Top