On September 22nd, 2020, Tesla shareholders gathered in Fremont, California to hear the latest from Elon Musk and Tesla Senior Vice President of Powertrain and Energy Drew Baglino. Sitting in their cars to social distance in the era of COVID-19, shareholders learned the latest technological advancements to Tesla’s vehicles. The most interesting of which is for the Semi: Tesla says they have found a way to make the batteries for the big rig cheaper and longer lasting.
Original plans for the Tesla Semi was to have the range be from 300 to 500 miles on a single charge, depending on driver habits and vehicle specifications. Now Tesla forecasts a 54% increase in range, which would land the miles traveled on a single charge from 462 to 770 miles.
Elon Musk told shareholders his plan is two-step: to use batteries that are high in nickel, and to use the batteries as part of the structural framework of the Semi.
Beyond the increased range, the new battery system is forecasted by Tesla to reduce the costs of manufacturing the batteries by 56% per kilowatt-hour (kWh). By going over 50% further at less than half the cost, the vehicle is much more efficient and should ultimately result in a lower price tag.
The Slight Problem
Not all is perfect in the innovation sphere, however. Elon Musk told investors at the conference, “To be clear, it will take us a year to 18 months to start realizing these advantages and probably to fully realize the advantages it’s probably about three years. If we could do this instantly, we would. It really bodes well for the future.”
Whether or not this means the Semi will have deluxe versions released later that include these features or if the Semi as a whole is having its production pushed back is currently unknown.
The news of potential delays follows previous delays from the company. Initially announced in 2017, the Tesla Semi’s release date seems to move further and further into the future with each passing month.
There is even contention about whether or not the added range for the Semi is little more than a flashy increase in statistics. Mike Roeth, executive director at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), says it is too early to determine the benefit of being able to travel an additional 54% on a single charge. Indeed, in a business where drivers might travel 400 miles in a day, even the best scenario of 770 miles is too much for one day and not enough for two.
If this increase of range further impacts the delayed production of the Semi, it could prove to be a fatal blunder. Competitors are entering the electric heavy-duty vehicle market at a rapid pace. One such company is Nikola Motor Company, which is building a factory for its own electric semi-trucks in Arizona. Nikola has been under fire for the past few weeks, as a research group published findings accusing Trevor Milton of being a fraud. Milton has since stepped down as CEO from the company, saying the mission of Nikola goes far beyond his own self-interests, and is dedicating his spare time to fighting back against the allegations levied against him. Perhaps Tesla knew of this roadbump in their closest competitor and is using the potential delay of the Nikola One to improve their technology and still be the first to market.
Elon Musk is a man of mystery, and was intentionally vague with his comments at the shareholder meeting. Will the upgrades to the Tesla Semi delay the production of current preorders, at a time where they have already been delayed numerous times? Will Tesla be the first to get a fully electric semi-truck to the market? Will we even see a fully electric big rig sometime this decade, or is that a pipe dream for decades ahead like fully autonomous 18-wheelers? As always, only time will tell of the outcome.