Are Tesla’s Trucking Ambitions Realistic?

Reuters recently announced that Tesla will be building semi trucks with ranges of between 200-300 miles.

The question is, where does an electric semi fit in today’s transport industry and how would it compare to its diesel rivals?

The 500 Mile Mark

Many assume a 200-300 mile range isn’t enough to enter the transport industry, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

There seems to be a sweet spot at 500 miles in the transport industry; if it’s over 500 miles freight will likely be transported by rail, waterways or pipeline but if it’s under, trucks will probably be used.

According to a 2013 report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado:

trucks dominate the market today for freight shipments under 500 miles, which account for almost 80 percent of all domestic freight tonnage.

So, it would seem this is an industry a Tesla semi could break into, especially if its range is closer to 300 miles than 200.

Financial Sense

When considering making any change to an industry one of the most important questions is, ‘will it save or make money?’. Aside from drivers, two of the biggest overheads in the trucking industry is fuel and maintenance.

We already know electric cars are cheaper to fuel than their gas counterparts, and there’s no reason an electric semi should be any different.

The batteries needed to give an electric semi this kind of range would undoubtedly be heavy duty and expensive. But the savings, like with electric cars, are long term.

In terms of maintenance, it’s estimated that an electric car will save its owner $10,000 over five years. If electric semi trucks are similar in this regard, it would mean major savings for transportation companies. 

Electric semis should save companies considerable money on fuel and maintenance, two major overheads in the transport industry.

Future Savings

Tesla’s electric semi will apparently have self-driving capabilities and, as we mentioned earlier, the drivers are the most expensive overhead for transport companies.

Once regulations allow for self-driving vehicles to operate freely, companies using Tesla’s electric semi truck could begin to phase out the use of drivers.

A vehicle like this could save companies considerable amounts of money, and there does seem to be a market for it in short distance hauls. All we can do now is eagerly await Elon Musk’s official announcement.

By Robert Bacon
Updated: August 31, 2017