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27th November 2017

Has Tesla just changed an entire industry with one press conference?

With Elon Musk unveiling of a new electric semi truck, James Gill discusses its promise as a diesel alternative

On Thursday the 16th of November, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to the stage to announce the latest creation for his company — a semi truck. The latest in a string of electric vehicles, this one in particular has the potential to turn an entire industry onto a more environmentally friendly road.

The event took place at the design studio used by Tesla and Musk’s other equally exciting venture SpaceX. During the presentation, he introduced the Semi with a mass of statistics and facts proving the vehicle to be a director competitor to the conventional diesel trucks.

There were two main concerns that big businesses had with electric vehicles that made them sceptical about the Semi: range and cost. In order to truly revolutionise the trucking industry, it needed to be able to cover the length of most routes, of which 80 percent are 250 miles or less, as well as being comparable in price to diesel trucks.

Musk announced to rapturous applause that the Semi has a range of 500 miles. Note that this is at maximum weight and highway speed so the average driver would be able to achieve more than this. Charging can be completed at the start or end points of the route via solar panels, causing minimal time delay and a 400 mile range would take just 30 minutes.

He then continued by saying that from day one, including the cost of the truck, insurance, and maintenance, a Tesla would be at least 20 percent cheaper than a diesel truck to run.

Corporate giant Walmart has already taken notice, “We have a long history of testing new technology — including alternate-fuel trucks — and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty vehicle. We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emission.”

The company, which has 6000 trucks on the road, have also pre-ordered 15 vehicles. This is a strong vote of confidence for Musk and Tesla, who could see large numbers of pre-orders before the initial production date of 2019 from firms wanting to meet environmental goals. In total, road freight accounts for approximately 20 percent of the world’s oil demand.

Electric will not only be cheaper but will also be predictable in price and will help the trucking industry become more efficient.

However, Tesla vehicles are only as environmentally friendly as the manner in which the electricity is made. In the UK, nearly a third of all electricity is made from renewable sources, but for electric cars to be the unanimous option that number needs to increase. In the USA, that number is just 15 percent. With the world aiming towards being more environmentally friendly, Musk could gain a significant foothold in the automotive business as a result.

The only issue left holding people back is the long and unpredictable wait times consumers have before getting their cars. Their last release, the Model 3, comparable to a Ford Mondeo, has been fraught with production problems. It has taken some time to get the production lines up and running, with some aspects still not fully automated, causing bottlenecks.

These delays have prompted at least one shareholder to sue Tesla, claiming that they improperly hid its problems from its investors. In October, Tesla revealed that it only built 260 of its Model 3 cars during the third quarter of 2017, far from the 1,500 it had forecast to investors earlier in the year. The company stated that a handful of their assembly lines had taken longer to get up and running than anticipated.

For Musk to then unveil the new Semi, as well as a new sports car, the Roadster, lead some industry experts to think that it is too much too soon — that ironing out the creases first would strengthen the belief in Tesla. If they can meet the supply, and meet it in time, we may see a complete change in the trucking industry for the better.


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