US automaker Tesla delivered its first electric truck, the Semi, built to tackle long journeys with the ride of a sports sedan, and with a view to revolutionizing the nascent market for battery-powered heavy-duty vehicles.
“It looks like it came from the future,” Tesla boss Elon Musk said Thursday as he handed over the keys to the Semi to PepsiCo executives at Tesla’s Nevada manufacturing plant.
With its sleek design, the Semi has been highly anticipated since Musk unveiled a prototype in 2017, but the full-scale production rollout was delayed well beyond the initial 2019 expectation.
“It’s crazy everything that has happened in five years (…) but here we are. It’s real,” Musk said.
Other automakers have already entered the electric truck market, from China’s traditional Daimler, Volvo and BYD to new companies such as Nikola of the United States.
These competing firms have already started making their deliveries and have many orders on hold.
However, the truck that “the market has been waiting for…is Tesla’s,” said Dave Mullaney, a transportation specialist at sustainability think tank RMI.
What traditional manufacturers mainly did was convert their trucks designed for diesel fuel into electric trucks.
Tesla’s Semi, by contrast, “was intended to be electric from the very first design,” Mullaney said. And if the vehicle lives up to expectations, “it will make a world of difference,” she added.
Musk insisted on Thursday that the loaded truck, with a total weight of almost 37 tons, can travel 805 kilometers without recharging its battery, while the current range of electric vehicles offers a range of 400 to 480 kilometers.
Tesla’s Semi has “all the power you need to get the job done,” Musk explained, assuring that the vehicle will be a “game changer” in the market.
– Environmentally conscious transport –
The use of light electric vehicles for short distances has been constantly growing, but new regulations are leading to accelerate the transition and develop long-distance transport capabilities.
The most populous US state, California (west), passed a law phasing out combustion engine trucks, since then emulated by other states. The European Union is also expected to discuss similar rules in the coming months.
And in the realm of public relations, companies are also facing pressure to take more environmentally conscious steps.
Firms that do not commit to a decarbonisation strategy, some because they say they are waiting for technologies to improve, “are being left behind,” said Marie Cheron of the Europe-based association Transport & Environment.
Although they make up a small portion of the vehicles on the road, diesel-powered semi-trucks account for about one-fifth of globally harmful emissions from motor vehicle traffic, according to Musk.
Mike Roeth, director of NACFE, an NGO that works to improve freight efficiency in North America, said another motivation for the transition is that drivers who tried it “were delighted with electric trucks.”
“They are quiet, there are no exhaust fumes, they are easier to drive,” he explained.
– The price, key factor –
For the adoption of electric trucks to accelerate, their range must live up to promises and their batteries should be reduced, several analysts told AFP.
The charging infrastructure must also allow charging several trucks simultaneously and have storage capacity in the event of power outages.
The most important factor, however, will be the price.
Tesla had indicated in 2017 that it would offer two versions of the Semi, one at $150,000 and the other at $180,000, but no price indication was given at Thursday’s event.
Mullaney noted that today it costs 70% more to buy an electric truck than to buy a diesel truck, but in terms of fuel and maintenance, it is cheaper.
After this first delivery, Tesla must now “show that it can produce on a large scale,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said on his side.
In late October, Musk said that Tesla is aiming to make 50,000 Semis by 2024.
But sadly, according to Ives, Musk is focused on his latest acquisition, Twitter, and “the circus show is overshadowing what should be a great moment in Tesla’s history.”