Tesla Semi hits the highway with a bang

This is big: big event, big truck, big battery…and big implications for the trucking industry, the global economy and the future of humans in the workforce.

The media (not only the EV press, but also outlets focusing on business and the trucking industry) has been in full speculation mode about the Tesla Semi for months, but it’s safe to say that few expected the electric tractor to be as cool as it was shown to be at Thursday’s reveal event (to say nothing of a little surprise Tesla was hiding in the trailer).

Master showman Elon Musk started the presentation by describing the new truck’s “BAMF performance” (what the acronym stands for is best left to the imagination). The Tesla Semi will accelerate from 0-60 in 5 seconds empty, and in 20 seconds with a full 80,000-pound load, more than twice as quickly as a legacy diesel truck. It can do 65 mph up a 5% grade – the best diesels can only reach 45 mph. Is that important? Absolutely. Semis may not compete on the drag strip, but time is money in the trucking business, and quicker acceleration could trim valuable minutes from trip times, especially in mountainous regions.

There are 4 motors – one on each of the rear wheels – and an independent front suspension. Driving range is 500 miles at maximum weight at highway speeds. Musk says the Tesla Semi will be able to charge to 400 miles of range in 30 minutes – that compares favorably to a diesel truck, which can take up to 15 minutes to refuel. A new network of Megachargers will be deployed along the highways.


“Every truck we sell will have enhanced autopilot as standard,” said Musk. This includes such safety features as emergency braking and lane-keeping. Several other features contribute to what Musk called “a massive increase in safety.” The truck’s low center of gravity reduces the risk of rollover, and the 4 motors, with individually adjustable torque, are designed to make jackknifing, the dread of drivers, impossible.

A few other little touches demonstrate that Tesla listened to experts in the trucking industry during the design process. “Thermonuclear-explosion-proof glass” may sound like an unnecessary frill (shades of Model X’s Bioweapon Defense Mode) until you learn that truck windshields tend to crack about once per year, resulting in huge expenses not only for replacing the glass, but for the downtime that results. The Tesla app offers remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance and location tracking.

What about reliability? Tesla will guarantee that the truck won’t break down for a million miles. Thanks to regenerative braking, the brake pads should last basically forever.

Cost savings? Musk promises that the Tesla Semi will cost 20% less per mile than a legacy truck – $1.26/mile versus $1.51/mile – or less. Tesla will guarantee electricity rates of $0.07 per kWh to Semi owners.

Production is scheduled to begin in 2019.

Customers are already starting to place orders. Bloomberg reports that retail giant Wal-Mart has preordered 5 trucks for the US and 10 for Canada. “We have a long history of testing new technology – including alternative-fuel trucks – and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg.

Arkansas-based logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services has also reserved several Tesla Semis, which it plans to deploy on the West Coast. “We believe electric trucks will be most beneficial on local and dray routes, and we look forward to utilizing this new, sustainable technology,” said CEO John Roberts.

Canadian supermarket chain Loblaw has pre-ordered 25 units. “It’s part of our commitment to electrify our fleet,” spokeswoman Catherine Thomas told CTV News.


Sources: The Verge, EVannex, Bloomberg

  • Ormond Otvos

    Look for the actual load it can pull. 80k# is the gross vehicle weight. How much more does the tractor weigh? Will it pull standard trailers?

    • Mark

      Where did you get the 80k# gross vehicle weight from?
      The article states “with a full 80,000-pound load”, but I’ve not yet watched the video.

      • Mark

        OK, so it’s right near the start of the video. But it’s noted as a legal highway limit. I guess the battery pack has to come out of that weight budget (legally), but this doesn’t seem like a technical limitation.

        • Vincent Wolf

          The truck will weigh more and be able to haul slightly less. However, it can operate in ‘convoy’ mode and able to have one driver operate much like a train operator in the lead locomotive and control 2 or 3 or more tandem trucks linked together. Thus reducing that gross weight disadvantage.

          • dogphlap dogphlap

            By my math the truck weighs 9 tonnes. I don’t know what a diesel truck would weigh.
            Musk showed an unladen time of 5 seconds to 60mph.
            Musk showed a fully laden (gross weight 80,000 lbs) time of 20 seconds to 60mph.
            Force = mass x acceleration or f = ma.
            I’ve assumed the forward force in both cases was the same
            therefore: f = ma = 80,000/20 = M/5
            since acceleration is proportional to 1/time.
            M represents the weight of the truck.
            Solving for M = 80,000 x 5/20 so truck weighs 20,000 lbs or roughly 9 tonnes which is one quarter of the fully laden gross weight.

            I’ve ignored any weight that the laden trailer adds over the truck’s driving wheels, that weight would allow the truck to produce more force while accelerating the fully laden trailer before those wheels lost traction. That means my calculations are somewhat suspect but what can you do. You work with the numbers you have.

          • Turd Gobbler

            according to a 0-60 calculator, it takes an 80k weight vehicle 1200 horsepower to get from 0-60 in 20.06 seconds.
            plug in 20K lbs and you get 7.095 seconds.
            12555 lbs equals 5.004 second 0-60

  • Vincent Wolf

    Lost among the details of the Tesla reveal is one huge inescapable fact: A Tesla semi pulling the maximum load of 80,000 lbs would win any race that abides by legal law abiding rest stops required of truckers.

    For example–assume a diesel and a Tesla truck are both hauling 80,000 lbs and departing from Golden, CO with destination Las Vegas.

    The Telsa can handle 65 mph up those grades, a diesel at best 45 mph. Thus a Tesla will be almost to Grand Junction (195+ miles) averaging that 65 mph while the diesel struggles to manage 45 mph average (often 30 mph or less up those 7% grades at Floyd hill, Eisenhower tunnel, Vail pass, etc). Thus the Tesla will arrive in Grand Junction about 3-1/2 hours later with the diesel an hour behind. The Tesla can then stop in Grand Junction and charge up another 200 miles or range in about 15 minutes giving him 700 miles of range from the time he departed Golden. Now the Tesla is still 45 minutes ahead of the diesel trucker and has a full
    charge again.

    The race continues with both truckers going the speed limit except at times over the steeper grades between Green River and Salina. So the Tesla pulls ahead even more on those steeper grades–arriving in Salina at least a full hour ahead of the Diesel trucker.

    So the Tesla trucker can stop again and get some much needed required legal rest and eat his dinner. And be fully charged another 400 miles while he takes a 30 minute dinner break before continuing on to Vegas.

    But the poor Diesel trucker is getting tired now–no stops, no rest, and flouting the law and safety trying to keep up with the Tesla. It takes cars 7 hours to make that trip–most truckers 8 hours if fully loaded. So that diesel trucker is breaking the law if he continues while the Tesla driver has a full belly, fully rested, and can continue until his 11 hour maximum for the day.
    So the Tesla driver will make it to Vegas BEFORE the diesel driver will–at least legally.

    Advantage over the road long trips: Tesla.

    So if speed is your forte the Tesla tops. If safety is–the Tesla tops because regenerative braking will make downhill grades far safer than a diesel trucker depending on his air brakes. The Tesla won’t have to worry about being blown up or burned up from a fire (100’s of times less likely) if he gets out of control on those down grades (which has plenty of trucker run outs all along I-70).

    If maintenance costs are your forte then the Tesla tops. Not much to fix on these electrics. 1 million plus mile is conservative for these things before major maintenance will be needed. Diesels need a rebuild at least every 250,000 miles (usually sooner).

    And what about local traffic? Win win for passenger cars which won’t be stuck behind slower moving diesel trucks. If trucks can handle 65 mph up grades then road rage will go way down. I can’t tell you how many one fingered salutes I got over my 10+ years driving over the road for Sears in Colorado and Wyoming. But hey sometimes those loads slowed me

    And what about diesel pollution which is cancerous (aromatics, principally benzenes)? I have lung cancer and it was determined to be caused by my decades of driving diesel trucks. I have regular checkups now with National Jewish the best lung cancer hospital in the nation. Doing well. But of course I wish I had never driven over the road around those cancer causing beasts.

    I wish you all the luck in the world Musk.

    Electrics rule.

    Tesla rules.

    The wicked witch of the West (fossil fueled transport) is nearly dead and buried.

    Tesla should challenge the best diesel trucks out there to a race full legal speed and legal rest limits rigidly controlled and see who arrives in Vegas from Golden first. I’ll put my money on Tesla.

    • Arthur Spears

      I’m currently driving local along I-5 around Portland and am excited about being able to drive an electric. I haven’t driven very long here but it’s so easy to find a job as a driver and there seems to be a huge need for drivers, so I’m worried about how automated driverless trucks may automate a huge career away from people that live on the road. I see a future where, like the check out lines at the grocery store have self-checkouts that allow one employee to run a dozen checkout stands, we’ll have mostly automated trucking with drone piloting in cities for final delivery or pickup. The auto pilot will handle the long hauls and a remote driver will just digitally hop from truck to truck for shipping/receiving. The autopilot will correct for any lag in the connection to prevent accidents, or even just drive all together with a human observer. If the performance lives up to the hype I think a lot of truckers will have to eat their hats at the sight of an electric truck blowing by them up grades. Then be worried about losing their job to an electric truck. I also want to know if there’s going to be a real Bioweapon Defense Mode on the trucks for Hazardous cargo drivers. That would be an option for some drivers that could be invaluable. Accidents happen all the time and having an option in the cab to recirculate the air to prevent contamination would be a first in the industry for a regular commercial truck. These cost around $200,000 with a $20,000 down payment for delivery in 2019. I can’t wait to try to get one!

  • Mccanic

    I’d like to know a few things,
    Whose going to drive a truck to these sorts of limits?
    The load will break loose taking off that fast and imagine a live load such as liquids or animals, it would be clearly dangerous.

    It does sound extremely good but I’m from Australia and rather than have multiple prime movers, we generally have multi trailered trucks e.g. B doubles, Triple and road trains.

    • Zephyr

      The example above doesn’t require flooring the pedal all the time. There’s a happy medium with significant performance gains without snapping the hitch.