Tesla CEO Elon Musk has opened a new chapter in his book of visions as he unveiled a prototype electric big-rig truck that aims to throw Tesla into a new market even as it struggles to roll out an affordable sedan.
After revolutionizing electric cars, Tesla is tackling a new frontier in "green" transportation with the introduction of a futuristic all-electric heavy truck.
On Thursday, Chief Executive Elon Musk unveiled the vehicle — dubbed the Tesla Semi — by riding the truck into an airport hangar near Los Angeles in front of an invited crowd of what the company said were potential truck buyers and Tesla car owners.
"We designed the Tesla truck to be like a bullet," Musk said at the event in Hawthorne, California — the site of the automaker's design bureau and the headquarters of SpaceX, the aerospace company and another one of his "moonshot projects."
The Tesla CEO also described the Class 8 truck as "trailer agnostic," or capable of hauling any type of freight. Class 8 is the heaviest weight classification on trucks.
The Semi truck is scheduled to go into production in 2019, with the company being its own first customer, using the truck to transport parts from its battery gigafactory in Nevada to its auto assembly plant in California.
The Semi's sleek, aerodynamic profile, in somber matte or metallic colors, will make it a standout on the road. Moreover, the vehicle would boast 500 miles (804 kilometers) of range, a battery and motors that will last 1 million miles and cheaper total operating costs than diesel models, Musk claimed.
"So it means you can go to your destination and back without recharging," he said. Diesel trucks are capable of traveling up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel.
In addition, it will have what Musk called a "thermonuclear explosion-proof" windshield that won't shatter. The cab features a centered seat flanked by two 15-inch screens for navigation and blind-spot monitoring. And the truck integrates several components of the Model 3, including the screens, motors and door handles.
Earlier this week Musk tweeted that the Semi would "blow your mind clear out of your skull," joking it could " transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte."
But Old Dominion Freight Line, the fourth-largest US less-than-truckload carrier, which consolidates smaller freight loads onto a single, said it would not use the Tesla truck.
"We met with Tesla and at this time we do not see a fit with their product and our fleet," Dave Bates, senior vice president of operations, said in an email to the news agency Reuters, without elaborating.
Head starts for competitors
With its latest product, the US e-car pioneer faces a much more crowded field for electric trucks than it did when it introduced its electric cars.
German carmaker Daimler — already an established brand in truck making — has shown several battery-powered prototypes this year. Paccar is working on electric, hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell and natural gas-powered models. The chief executive of the US truck maker, Ron Armstrong, however said in April, that it would be about 10 years before electric trucks pose a credible threat.
Moreover, Tesla would first of all need to invest substantially to create a factory for those trucks. The company is currently spending about $1billion (€848 million) per quarter, largely to set up a factory to mass-produce its Model 3 sedan, and is contemplating a factory in China to build cars.
uhe/mds (Reuters, AFP, dpa)