Tesla's Electric Semi-Truck Aiming for 200 to 300 Miles on a Charge

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【Summary】 According to a report by Reuters, Tesla is targeting regional hauling for its entry into the commercial freight market.

Original Eric Walz    Sep 30, 2017 5:25 PM PT
Tesla's Electric Semi-Truck Aiming for 200 to 300 Miles on a Charge

Tesla has big plans to unveil an electric semi-truck with a working range of 200 to 300 miles, according to a report by Reuters, indicating that the electric car maker is targeting regional hauling for its entry into the commercial freight market.

Chief Executive Elon Musk has promised to release a prototype of its Tesla Semi truck next month in a bid to expand the company's market beyond luxury cars. The ambitious entrepreneur has tantalized the trucking industry with the prospect of a battery-powered heavy-duty vehicle that can compete with conventional diesels, which can travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel.

Tesla's electric prototype will be capable of traveling the low end of what transportation veterans consider to be "long-haul" trucking, according to Scott Perry, an executive at Miami-based fleet operator Ryder System Inc. Perry said he met with Tesla officials earlier this year to discuss the technology at the automaker's manufacturing facility in Fremont, California.

‘Day Cab' Big Rig

Perry said Tesla's efforts are centered on an electric big-rig known as a "day cab" with no sleeper berth, capable of traveling about 200 to 300 miles with a typical payload before recharging.

"I'm not going to count them out for having a strategy for longer distances or ranges, but right out of the gate I think that's where they'll start," said Perry, who is the chief technology officer and chief procurement officer for Ryder.

Tesla responded to Reuters questions with an email statement saying, "Tesla's policy is to always decline to comment on speculation, whether true or untrue, as doing so would be silly. Silly!"

Tesla's plan, which could change as the truck is developed, is consistent with what battery researchers say is possible with current technology. Tesla has not said publicly how far its electric truck could travel, what it would cost or how much cargo it could carry. But Musk has acknowledged that Tesla has met privately with potential buyers to discuss their needs.

Reuters also reported earlier this month that Tesla is developing self-driving capability for the big rig. Musk has expressed hopes for large-scale production of the Tesla Semi within a couple of years. This eventually may open a lucrative new market for the Palo Alto, California-based automaker.

Although the prototype described by Ryder's Perry would fall well short of the capabilities of conventional diesels, it may be a good starting point for electric trucks. Approximately 30 percent of U.S. trucking jobs are regional trips of just 100 to 200 miles, according to Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer of Toronto-based Fleet Complete, which tracks and analyzes truck movement.

A truck with that range would be able to move freight regionally, such as from ports to nearby cities or from warehouses to retail establishments. "As long as (Musk) can break 200 miles he can claim his truck is 'long haul' and he will be technically right," Kar said.

Interest in electric trucks is high among transportation firms looking to reduce their emissions and operating costs. Electric motors require less maintenance than diesel engines. However some experts disagree, saying the batteries required would be so large and heavy there would be little room reserved for cargo.

An average diesel cab costs around $120,000. The cost of the battery alone for a big rig capable of going 200 to 400 miles carrying a typical payload could be more than that, according to battery researchers Shashank Sripad and Venkat Viswanathan of Carnegie Mellon University.

Battery weight and ability would limit a semi to a range of about 300 miles with an average payload, according to a paper recently published by Viswanathan and Sripad. The paper thanked Tesla for "helpful comments and suggestions." However, Tesla did not endorse the findings or comment on the conclusions to Reuters.

A range of 200 to 300 miles would put Tesla at the edge of what the nascent electric truck industry believes is economically feasible, the researchers and industry insiders said.

Other Companies Focusing on Short Haul Electric Trucks

Daimler AG and shipping company United Parcel Service Inc, said they are focusing their electric efforts on short-haul trucks. That's because smaller distances and lighter payloads require less battery power, and trucks can recharge at a central hub overnight.

Daimler, is the largest truck manufacturer in the world by sales, will begin production this year on an electric delivery truck. The vehicle will have a 100-mile range and be capable of carrying a payload of 9,400 pounds, about 1,000 pounds less than its diesel counterpart, according to Daimler officials.

Daimler has been joined by a handful of startups such as Chanje, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer that has a partnership with Ryder to build 100-mile-range electric trucks for package delivery.

Ryder and its customers believe electric trucks could cost more to buy but may be cheaper to maintain and have more predictable fuel costs. As batteries become cheaper and environmental regulation increases, the case for electric trucks could strengthen. "This tech is being seen as a major potential differentiator. Everyone wants to understand how real it is," said Perry.

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