Tesla has promised a semi truck to electrify shipping for years, and it’s finally here. Can it haul as promised? Tesla has been planning on a semi truck to disrupt shipping since 2017. Here is the first EV heavy duty truck from the automaker, and how it really performs.
First of all, what is the Tesla semi truck called? Semi. No points for originality, but that doesn’t matter that much for a vehicle that doesn’t get marketed to general consumers looking for lifestyle marketing in their vehicle purchase decisions. Semi has been in the works for five years, and the first production edition was just delivered to Pepsi, which will use them for deliveries.
During the announcement with Pepsi and FritoLay regarding the delivery of the first Tesla Semi, Elon Musk drove up in one of these shiny new semi EVs, then apologized for the wait to make the Tesla Semi a reality. He explained that Tesla is building the Semi to help with the issue of semi trucks being responsible for about 20% of emissions despite only representing 1% of vehicle sales in the U.S.
Moreover, the Semi comes with a 500-mile range with 1,000-volt battery. That means truckers won’t have to stop to charge as often as you might expect, but it’s still just one quarter the range of a diesel tank for a standard semi. It is workable, however, especially as supercharger fast-charging EV infrastructure is built out on the U.S. highway system. Expect truck stops to install EV chargers for electric SUVs, but for Tesla and other EV makers to have to build most of the infrastructure themselves.
Additionally, the Tesla Semi is powered by a triple motor with plaid-based dual motor axle. That means that one axle is powered by the Model X and X Plaid’s dual motors, which is used during acceleration, drivetrain, HVAC and controls plus software are based on existing Tesla systems. At a steady cruising speed, motors decouple from the axles, which allows them to freewheel, increasing the energy efficiency of the truck. A single motor can take over and be used for highway driving. Musk promises the transition from acceleration axle engagement and standard cruise speed driving will be seamless.
Tesla demonstrated the Semi driving over puddles, dirt and snow-covered roads, and washboard ruts to prove reliability and durability in standard trucking scenarios. Semis run 24/7 between Sparks, Reno, Tahoe and Freemont, California to test readiness of the trucks for hauling.
Like many EVs built in California, we expect the testing of these haulers in snowy conditions and truly rough roads might be under done, but they’ll get there. Tesla Semis are likely useful for most trucking jobs that don’t require extremely rough conditions such as Alaskan ice road conditions. Semis can tow 82,000 pounds, which is the max allowed by law anyway. That’s actually 2,000 pounds more than diesel trucks are allowed. Regulators made that concession to allow for the extra weight of an EV battery pack.
Tesla did show the Semi taking on ultra-steep and treacherous Donner Pass in California and filmed the truck passing a diesel semi while carrying a full load. The Semi has regenerative braking as an added bonus over traditional semi trucks, which helps retain more energy for the battery while in motion. These EV trucks use less braking than an ICE truck because regenerative braking allows the truck to use a sort of engine braking while recapturing energy that requires less wear and tear on the brakes.
Images via Tesla