Tesla has unveiled its first electric articulated heavy-duty truck, designed to challenge diesel trucks, throwing the company into a new market.
Speaking at Tesla’s facility in Los Angeles, chief executive Elon Musk said: “It’s not like any truck that you’ve ever driven.”
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Semi is being labeled as the safest, most comfortable truck ever. Four independent motors provide maximum power and acceleration and require the lowest energy cost.
Musk did not give a price for the Semi, or say how or where either product would be built, but he said the truck would begin production in 2019.
The Enhanced Autopilot helps avoid collisions, a centered driver position provides maximum visibility and control, and a low center of gravity offers rollover protection.
The Tesla Semi will achieve the quickest acceleration from zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds when fully loaded. The truck can go up to 500 miles (800 km) at maximum weight at highway speed.
Electric energy costs are said to half those of diesel. With fewer systems to maintain, the Tesla Semi claims to provide more than $200,000 in fuel savings and a two-year payback period.
Musk said the Class 8 vehicle, the heaviest weight classification for trucks, in 30 minutes can recharge the battery enough to go 400 miles, and that Tesla would build a global, solar-powered network of “mega changers.”
Musk has described electric trucks as Tesla’s next effort to move the economy away from fossil fuels through projects including electric cars, solar roofs, and power storage.
Tesla also has to convince the trucking community that it can build an affordable electric big rig with the range and cargo capacity to compete with relatively low-cost, time-tested diesel trucks. The heavy batteries eat into the weight of cargo an electric truck can haul.
Diesel trucks are capable of traveling up to 1,000 miles (1,600 km) on a single tank of fuel. Musk said diesel trucks were 20 percent more expensive per mile to operate than his electric truck.
Self-driving technology would allow the trucks to travel in convoys, where only the front truck would need a driver, making trucks cheaper than rail, Musk added.
Tesla showed off the semi on a webcast which offered reservations for the truck at $5,000 each, but Musk did not discuss reservation volume.
Tesla would need to invest substantially to create a factory for those trucks. Charging and maintaining electric trucks that crisscross the country could be expensive and complex.
Musk faces continued pressure from investors and customers as the firm struggles to meet a demand for its Model 3 car.
Shares of Tesla have risen 46 percent this year to make the company the No. 2 U.S. automaker by market value.