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A Closer Look at Tesla's Private and Commercial Trucking Ambitions

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【Summary】Elon Musk recently announced plans to expand the application of Tesla’s proprietary technologies to other markets, specifically one that will experience full disruption in the next decade through mature autonomous driving platforms: trucking.

Michael Cheng    May 10, 2017 6:05 PM PT
A Closer Look at Tesla's Private and Commercial Trucking Ambitions

Tesla's EV and AutoPilot technologies are versatile. The two are currently being applied to private cars, as seen in the iconic Tesla Roadster, Model S and Model X.

Elon Musk recently announced plans to expand the application of Tesla's proprietary technologies to other markets, specifically one that will experience full disruption in the next decade through mature autonomous driving platforms: trucking.

Commercial Trucking

In April, Musk announced the production of a semi-truck, which will be unveiled in September. This marks the company's entry into the B2B market – an industry with very strict, large needs, compared to B2C. The vessels are being marketed as an alternative to diesel-powered trucks.

Analysts predict that Tesla's EV trucks will initially come with a higher price tag than its competitors, which basically means that large companies with a network of fleets will be the first to adopt the units. Bring down the cost of the trucks is top priority for Musk. According to a 2015 US Department of Transportation report, around 97 percent of 1.3 million trucking businesses require 20 or less trucks for daily operation.

Big rigs that run on electric power have numerous advantages. The main one is that the units will have more space for cargo, which can help reduce the number of trips to the destination. It will also be quieter and more responsive. However, in order to truly compete with other trucks in the niche, Tesla needs to be able to offer range. Today's commercial trucks are capable of covering up to 600 miles per day. Tesla's vessels will likely max out at 300 miles. This range is good for short, continuous routes around cities.

Musk did not mention anything about how AutoPilot will be customized to meet the driving needs of truckers. If the units can be equipped with reliable platooning features, this may help increase the value of Tesla's offerings over traditional trucks on the road today.

Pickup Trucks

For SMBs and the B2C market, Tesla plans to roll out pickup trucks. Personally, I'm a huge fan of this move, since private cars simply lack the ruggedness needed for locations that experience rough weather and lack well-developed infrastructure. This would allow the company to reach consumers outside of urban locations (its current focus).

Last month, Musk acknowledge in a tweet that the business will unveil its first pickup truck in "18 to 24 months". There's not really a lot we know about the unit, other than it will go head to head with Ford's F-150 and Dodge's RAM, Toyota's Tundra and Nissan's Frontier. All of these trucks are already well established models in the US.

In order to successfully compete with these vehicles, Tesla's pickup truck must be able to tow large payloads and survive off-road trails. This means it will likely offer 4x4 capabilities and extended cab designs.

"Matching V8-like performance would not be difficult – the Model S and Model X already does this and with the inherent strengths of an electric motor, namely torque from zero, the numbers actually required would be smaller than those needed for the gasoline equivalent," said Aaron Turpen from Teslarati. 

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