Tesla unveils electric truck - the Semi - and updates Roadster

Amid big announcements of investments in electric vehicles from within the car manufacturing industry and out - James Dyson has recently unveiled plans to launch a ‘radically different’ electric vehicle in 2020 - and growing restrictions on petrol and diesel engines in markets around the globe, Tesla has unveiled an electric truck - the Semi - and announced plans to relaunch the Roadster, the sports car that founded the business.

Insight anticipated big announcements in electric vehicles when its managing director, Dan Munford, test drove a Tesla last year.

Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk, revealed the brand’s latest production plans at a launch event in Los Angeles.

First up the Tesla Semi, which is claimed to deliver a better experience for truck drivers, while increasing safety and significantly reducing transport costs.

Musk presented the Semi’s unrivaled performance: the Tesla Semi achieves 0-60 mph in five seconds, compared to 15 seconds in a comparable diesel truck. “It accelerates like nothing else,” he said.

Further, the truck does 0-60 mph in 20 seconds with a full 80,000-pound load, a task that takes a diesel truck about a minute. It also outshines regular trucks when driving up hill.

“The best diesel trucks can only do 45mph up a 5% grade. The Tesla Semi can do 65mph up a 5% grade,” Musk said. “That’s 65mph, continuous at max gross, which means that if you are pulling a load over the Rockies or some mountain range or up a hill, you are earning, per mile, 50% more than in a diesel truck - that’s a gigantic difference,” he added.

Musk said the company frequently gets asked how far can electric trucks go. The Semi has a 500 mile range at maximum weight and highway speed, he revealed.

“What that means is because the vast majority of routes are under 250 miles, you can go to your destination and back, even if the destination has no charging. You can deliver a load out to the middle of nowhere and come back.”

According to Tesla, it’s the Semi’s design which makes this possible .

“We’ve designed the Tesla truck to be like a bullet. A normal diesel truck is designed more like a barn wall,” Musk said.

The truck’s profile means it also has an even better drag co-efficient than a super car such as a Bugatti Chiron. As well as the aerodynamic design, the truck’s side flaps have been designed to map whatever trailer is being pulled and close the gap. “That makes a huge difference to the drag co-efficient,” said Musk.

The Semi features four independent motors with a motor on each of the rear wheels and independent front suspension. Musk said this feature made the truck incredibly comfortable to drive. “It’s amazing to drive,” he said. “There are no gears so you are not constantly shifting gears - it’s unlike any truck you have ever driven.”

The driver experience is unique too. Tesla has put the driver in the centre of the truck, just as in a race car. Musk said this gave the driver complete visibility of the road and their surroundings. The interior is also spacious and is large enough to stand up in. A trunk has been incorporated in the front of the truck too.

The cab features two touchscreen displays, which are positioned symmetrically on both sides of the driver to provide easy access to navigation, blind spot monitoring and electronic data logging. Built-in connectivity integrates directly with a fleet’s management system to support routing and scheduling, and remote monitoring. Musk said that’s radically different to today’s diesel trucks, which feature a “clutter of third party devices” and are difficult to use, require integration and installation at significant add on cost.

“With the Tesla Semi, it’s all included in every truck. Everything just works, the moment you get the truck it’s got everything,” said Musk. “It offers seamless integration with all the fleet system - those things are really important to the trucking industry.”

Musk claims the Semi has further advantages over regular diesel trucks when it comes to fueling.

“If you are fueling a diesel truck there are fumes, spills and a toxic environment and prices change all the time,” he explained. It also takes 15 minutes to fill.

Using Tesla Megachargers - a new high speed DC charging solution - will add about 400 miles in 30 minutes and means the Semi can be charged, at origin or destination points and along heavily trafficked routes, enabling charging during loading or unloading and during driver breaks.

“By the time you’ve done with your break, you are ready to go,” Musk said.

The chargers are solar powered too, which means Tesla is able to guarantee the electricity rate and it is 24/7 guaranteed low electricity.

“Your truck is running on sunlight,” Musk smiled.

The safety features of the Semi make it a standout vehicle too, Musk told his audience. “Every truck we sell will have enhanced auto pilot as standard,” he revealed. It will automatically brake and keep lane and, in the event of a medical emergency, will call the emergency services and request an ambulance.

Jackknifing - the worst nightmare of the trucker - is impossible, said Musk. Onboard sensors will dynamically adjust the torque on each wheel, while independently actuating all brakes. The driver, meanwhile, occupies a central, safe position and the truck’s low centre of gravity means roll over is also reduced, said Musk.

On the reliability front, the Semi ticks the boxes too. “We’ve paid massive attention to making this truck incredibly reliable - we guarantee it will not break down for a million miles,” he said. A driver could lose two of the four motors and still keep going and beat a diesel truck, he added.

“The brakes are also a big deal,” said Musk. Regenerative braking recovers 98% of kinetic energy to the battery, giving it a basically infinite brake life. “So brake pads last forever, you never need to replace brake pads, ever,” he said. The lack of a transmission adds to the Semi’s reliability; while the wind screen is made from thermal nuclear explosion proof glass.

“It survives a nuclear explosion or you get a full refund. But the reason that’s important is that truck wind shields are huge and they crack about once a year. If a windscreen is cracked, you are not allowed to drive and that means lost revenue. Therefore this detail matters a lot to someone who really understands trucking. It’s small but very important.”

Connectivity to the truck, via the Tesla app, provides a full understanding of what’s going on, Musk said. The app provides information about the truck such as remote diagnostics. “The truck will anticipate when it needs maintenance and inform you ahead of time. It connects with the fleet and all the data that’s coming in and knows what’s going on.”

Tesla claims the new Semi offers the lowest cost of ownership on the market and taking everything into account including lease cost and maintenance, a diesel truck is still 20% more expensive than Tesla Semi per mile. “That’s from day one and that’s the worst case scenario and we are guaranteeing a 7c/kWh wholesale electricity price.”

In convoy, the economics look even better, Musk added. In a convoy scenario a diesel truck would be twice as expensive as a Tesla Semi.

“It not just economic suicide to use one diesel truck, this beats rail. That’s quite profound, it’s a product that’s better in every way.”

Production of the Semi is due to begin 2019.

The new Tesla Roadster

Musk surprised his audience with the unveiling of a new Tesla Roadster - the cargo in the Semi truck.

Designed for performance and aero efficiency, the new model will achieve 0-60mph in 1.9 seconds. According to Musk, it’s the first time any car has broken two seconds at 0-60. The Roadster can travel a quarter of a mile in 8.9 seconds, breaking the nine seconds per quarter of a mile barrier. “That’s the first time for a production car,” said Musk. “This is what we are achieving in prototype,” he added, revealed the car’s top speed was 250mph+.

In terms of range, the Roadster can travel 620 miles on a 200kWh battery pack; equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back at highway speed without recharging.

“The point of doing this is just to give a hardcore smack down to gasoline cars,” said Musk. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like driving a steam engine with a side of quiche.”

The car features three motors, all wheel drive, torque steering and is a four-seater and convertible. “There’s tonnes of storage, it’s a real car and not just crammed in,” explained Musk. The base price for the new Roadster is $200,000 and $250,000 for the Founders Series version. It will be available in 2020.

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Fiona BriggsFiona Briggs Freelance retail business journalist

Fiona is an experienced journalist and editor, writing exclusive content for GCSF. She is founder of retailtimes.co.uk. She contributes regularly to NACS Magazine and writes articles on omnichannel shopper trends for Radial. Fiona is available for commissions at fionalbriggs@gmail.com

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