The real question: will said industry go for it?
All the glitz and glamour in the Tesla name now lies with the new Roadster, but that’s just a pretty distraction from the vehicle that really matters. Once the lights go down at Space X’s Hawthorne, California headquarters where the reveal took place, it’s the semi truck that’ll be poised to change the game just as much as the Model 3. If Tesla can prove to the world that sustainable transportation of goods on a mass scale is not only viable but practical, it’ll be game over for the internal combustion engine.
The truck itself looks just like the spy shots we saw earlier this month, but its the hardware we care about. The most important parts are the four independent motors loaded onto the rear axles and the battery that powers them. We don’t know much about the latter aside from the fact it'll be more capable than expected. The Semi can go 500 miles between charges and get an additional 400 miles of range with a 30 minute top-off (the amount of time that feds require truckers to break at certain intervals), carry up to 80,000 pounds of cargo, and use less than 2kWh of juice per mile. You can be sure the on-demand torque makes for some interesting acceleration times. Think 0-60 mph in 20 seconds when fully loaded with cargo.
That might not sound quick to us, but it makes this semi one of the quickest. The ability to go up to 65 mph up a 5% grade with those same 80,000 pounds pulling the truck downhill is no laughing matter either. Just imagine how much juice the batteries will get when using regenerative braking to slow cargo on the downhill. And just like the electric drivetrain enables the rest of the Tesla lineup to get away with designs that are impossible on vehicles with engines, the Tesla Semi is able to scrap the cumbersome engine bay in favor of a much more aerodynamic design and a large cabin, tall enough that a 6’6 human can stand inside of it. The interior of the Semi gets quite a bit of glass for a better view of the scenery while sitting in the centrally mounted seat.
Musk used to own a McLaren F1, so perhaps that was the inspiration for the interior? Either way the Tesla Semi is well appointed for drivers with plenty of storage space (even a frunk) and a three-spoke steering wheel sitting on the dash flanked by two 15-inch touchscreen displays. These are seemingly ripped from the Model 3 and handle navigation, data logging, and presumably are used to activate the semi autonomous Enhanced Autopilot function that utilizes the lessons Tesla learned from its Autopilot system to make driving less of a chore on the highway. There’s even a system that detects jackknifing and adjusts power to each motor to straighten out the truck.
The big challenge for Tesla will be to convince an entire industry that’s very set in its ways to experiment with its semi in the first place. And then, once they're on open roads, the trucks have to deliver. Tesla touts the Semi’s ability to save costs and pay itself back in the long run by cutting fuel costs, but even then it’s an uphill battle for the young automaker. Good thing those electric motors are loaded with torque and Tesla’s CEO is dead set on convincing the world that electricity is the way of the future.