5 mins

Unveiling the Tesla Semi

Brett Wetzel


Brett Wetzel
November 17, 2017


The highly anticipated Tesla Semi finally made its debut to the world.  On the evening of November 16th, Elon Musk – co-founder, CEO and Product Architect for Tesla Inc. – introduced the all-electric, heavy-duty semi-truck at the SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.  Despite multiple delays pushing the Tesla Semi’s unveiling date since September, the excitement of the crowd was palpable.  Musk himself emceed the event, making a grand entrance in the passenger seat of one of the two Tesla Semis in operation. He then presented high-level information on performance, reliability, safety, and the all-important cost of operation for the new truck design. Production was confirmed for 2019, giving at least a two-year waiting period before the Tesla Semi can be spotted on a roadway near you.

Impressive Range and Recharge Claims

  • 500 Mile Range

  • Recharge of 400 miles in 30 minutes

  • Solar-powered Megacharger network

Perhaps the largest applause of the night came when Musk announced that the Tesla Semi will have a 500-mile range, which exceeds the prior estimation of 300 miles.  Just as important, the company boasts that the trucks can restore enough power for 400 miles in half an hour, which is the currently mandated break period for a commercial driver.  To achieve this, Tesla will build a network of Megachargers – with more power than the current Tesla Superchargers – that will be solar-powered to mitigate concerns about the sustainability of the electricity source.  Details on the size and scope of the Megacharger network were not discussed at the event.

Performance Exceeds Conventional Commercial Vehicles

  • 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds for tractor-only

  • 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds for 80,000lb load

  • Ability to maintain 65mph at 5% grade

  • Regenerative braking to assist battery life

  • Industry-leading Aerodynamics

The Tesla Semi takes advantage of the all-electric direct drive technology of their consumer vehicles.  The futuristic look of the Tesla Semi is very much intentional as well, as it boasts a drag coefficient that is much lower than conventional diesel trucks and even lower than some leading high-performance cars.  Flaps on the rear of the tractor adapt to any trailer being pulled reducing resistance of the overall combination vehicle.  What does this mean?  The Tesla Semi will use more of its power to move the load and not to fight the wind.

Reliability for the Bottom Line

  • Access to the Tesla Mobile Service app comes standard

  • Remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance can spot issues before they occur

  • Drivetrain guarantee of one million miles

All-electric vehicles with direct-drive technologies see lower wear and tear over their lifetime, leading to fewer maintenance visits.  The electric semi doesn’t require additives, aftertreatment systems, or other technologies to maintain or improve operation that are commonplace on today’s diesel trucks.  Specific to the Tesla Semi, integration to the Tesla Mobile Service app via the two onboard tablets will help identify any problems before they occur.  Musk also announced a one-million-mile guarantee on the vehicle’s drivetrain.

Improved Safety Through Autonomous Technology

  • Enhanced Autopilot will be standard

  • Emergency braking and lane assist will improve safety

  • Jackknife prevention

  • Single Center Positioned Drive

Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot will make autonomy a standardized feature in their new heavy-duty trucks.  Sensors around the truck will help take strain off the driver, as well as optimize vehicle operation to enhance performance.  While this was an expected announcement by most, Musk’s reveal of jackknife prevention technology – thwarting an event he depicts as a “driver’s worst nightmare” – was met with applause. The center-positioned driver seat is both futuristic and practical. The larger viewing range, lower center of gravity, and more even weight distribution that the center-position provides is intended to greatly improve vehicle safety.

Cost of Ownership Look Promising, but Questions Remain

  • 17% reduction in total operating cost ($1.51/mi diesel vs. $1.26/mi Tesla Semi)

  • 44% reduction when operating in three truck convoy

  • Guaranteed Electricity cost of 7¢/KwH

  • No release of purchase price

Elon Musk’s comments on costs lead many to believe that the Tesla Semi can beat the operating costs of today’s commercial trucks, but there is still a lot left uncovered.  Perhaps the largest question mark is the retail price of the Tesla Semi, as details on the amortization used for their operating statistics was not released.  Musk stated that using a three-truck convoy – alluding to platooning technology – will make operating competitive with railways.  The initial cost could prove to be a big hurdle for adoption in today’s trucking fleets.

The lights went down at the close of the event, but Tesla’s CEO had one last surprise for the crowd – a working prototype of the Tesla Roadster (the next generation of Tesla’s original Roadster which started it all).  The sleek convertible pulled out of the trailer of one of the trucks on stage making it the first payload delivered by the Tesla Semi. The Tesla Roadster promises to blow away the performance of even the top high-performance cars on the road today, with 0-60mph in 1.9 seconds and a top speed above 250 miles per hour.  The Roadster will be available in 2020.

When addressing why Tesla is developing the Roadster, Musk stated: “The point of all this is just to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars.”

Breakthrough®Fuel celebrates every milestone that makes the process of moving goods to market safer, more sustainable, and more efficient. As the technology landscape continues to change, so will shippers’ management of and understanding of their energy portfolio. In this dynamically evolving marketplace, we look forward to a future where our energy management strategies evolve to meet the needs created by innovation and advancements in technology.

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