Not All Truckers Are As Impressed With The Tesla Semi As Elon Is


Jonathon Ramsey is not a lifelong professional trucker, but he did spend most of 2017 driving 18 wheelers across the United States. He has some thoughts on the Tesla Semi. In a post for AutoBlog, he says he spent “six months in a Freightliner Cascadia pulling a refrigerated trailer, then nearly three months in a Kenworth T680 pulling a flatbed. I drove more than 90,000 miles, from New England to the Pacific Northwest, from San Diego to central Florida.”

tesla semi

That may not seem like a lot to career truck drives who have millions of miles to their credit, but it does give him enough trucker chops to offer some insights about the new Tesla Semi unveiled last week. He thinks there’s a lot to like about the Semi, but says it is “most impressive to those who don’t know what it’s like to be a truck driver.”

About That Central Seating Position

Ramsey’s number one complaint is with the central seating position. He doesn’t like it and he doesn’t think other truckers will either. He says it makes it too hard to see vehicles lurking outside the cab and makes backing the trailer more difficult. “What I need is a commanding view of my own truck, which the central seating position compromises. The worst blind spot in a tractor is next to the doors. In the Tesla Semi, I can’t lean over to see if there’s a Toyota Corolla camped out beside me.

“The central seating position hampers my commanding view when I need that view most — when I back up. For any backing maneuver, I watch both sides of the trailer in my mirrors to make sure I don’t clobber anything or I lean out of the truck to watch the trailer as I back. Being able to physically watch the trailer — not camera images on screens — can be the difference between making a clean back-up or making an insurance claim.”

Mirrors, Mirrors, And  More Mirrors

Ramsey is also no fan of rear view cameras. He likes good old fashioned mirrors and plenty of them. “My Kenworth had seven mirrors in total. I’ve seen plenty of trucks with more. You’d be amazed at the number of tiny concrete and reinforced steel impediments lurking at truck stops and customer terminals. I know such mirrors would hamper aerodynamics on the Tesla Semi, but when those $8 contraptions could save thousands on carbon fiber repairs and downtime. I don’t see why anyone would go without them.”

Mirrors would have another important benefit. They would allow him to “turn off, or turn down, the two giant screens in the cab (screens which, by the way, hinder my view of the corners of my truck). The light required to provide a useful camera image at night would kill my eyes during a full drive shift. Doing an 11-hour stint in a dark cockpit in the glow of large digital screens only works in anime and ‘Battlestar Galactica.’ I had one computer in both trucks I drove, and unless I was using it, I turned the screen off.”

Braking Not Acceleration

Elon and Tesla are bragging on the rapid acceleration possible with their shiny new Semi, which can scoot to 60 miles per  hour from a dead stop in just 20 seconds while pulling a fully loaded trailer. That’s about a third of the time that guy in the Perterbilt in the next lane requires. But Ramsey is not that impressed.

“I’m far more interested in braking. An 80,000-pound tractor trailer needs about 550 feet to come to a complete stop from 55 miles per hour, and I spent a surprising portion of every driving shift trying not to obliterate car drivers who weren’t aware of that fact. Show me how much the Semi can lop off that braking distance.” Seems like a fair point.

Mack The Jack Knife

Speaking of slowing down, Musk says the Tesla Semi will make jackknifing — which occurs when the weight of the trailer overwhelms the tractor — impossible. “This is a lie, unless the Tesla Semi and Tesla trailer can counteract physics and human error. My Freightliner weighed about 18,000 pounds, the reefer trailer added about another 16,000 pounds. That left enough for about a 46,000-pound load. When stuffed to the gills, I had 62,000 pounds ready to push me around or come around. If, either through physics or human error, the drive wheels or the trailer break loose too far, the Tesla Semi won’t stop the jackknife.”

Is Ramsey done carping? Not quite. He dislikes the windows in the doors of the cab. “I have to believe one of the windows on the Tesla Semi rolls down, but I can’t figure out which one. If, as it appears from the renderings, the windows only vent, — [so] when I need to exchange paperwork with the guard at a terminal, or the police, I can’t lean out the window to do so — that’s unacceptable.” Again, a fair point.

Lastly, Ramsey takes issues with Musk’s statement that truck drivers are just standing around while they fill their tanks with diesel fuel. “Truckers don’t ‘sit there’ while filling up at a truck stop. Truckers clean all the windows, mirrors, and headlights, check the tires and axle seals, make sure every tractor and trailer light works, and look for damage. This walkaround can take longer than the actual fill-up, and it must be done no matter what energy powers the truck.”

What the world saw last week was only a pre-production prototype. There will be changes made before production begins in 2019, much of it based on feedback from people like Jonathon Ramsey. “Don’t be surprised to see more mirrors,” he says.

Give Us Your Feedback

Are there any professional truckers in the audience? We would love to hear what you have to say about the Tesla Semi. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. Thanks. We appreciate it.

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  • El Cid

    It’s unfortunate that for many reasons secrecy is paramount during the basic development — perhaps now that the basic design is revealed, Tesla can now do much more testing with actual drivers to see how well ideas which sound good and contribute to some goals work in the real world.

  • WebUserAtLarge

    Jonathon Ramsey is missing the point of an electric truck. What does it matter if his Freightliner or Kenworth is marginally better or worse at this or that, then Tesla Semi (all hypothetical anyway). The point of an EV truck is to stop using fossil fuels. Can’t drive 90,000 miles a year if there is no world left to drive in.

    • There are other electric trucks coming on line, though- from people like Volvo and Cummins who know this space maybe better than Tesla does. Don’t see it as “Tesla = electric”, see it as “there are better options out there”.

      • Kieran Delaney

        Yeah this makes sense. The Tesla Semi is very cool, but Volvo is a massive deal (at least here in Europe) for trucking. I would bet theirs will be functionally more practical than the Tesla.

        I love Elon and Tesla (gonna dream about buying a roadster), but seeing how the truckers work here in Japan, I can’t see a place for the Tesla Semi unless some fairly significant changes are made – inside the cab at the least. Many semi drivers here are married women who want to take their small child with them (and are allowed to do so). This Tesla Semi looks great, but that central driving position is going to be a major ‘no-no’ for a lot of the companies here I suspect.

  • Emmanuel Debra

    In life, there are options, choices and decisions!

    Jonathan Ramsey (JR) may be representing a fossil fuel group whose aim is to double down on the Tesla semi.

    JR’s comment “…but says it is “most impressive to those who don’t know what it’s like to be a truck driver.”” is rather obtuse. For the record, I’m extremely impressed even for a prototype.
    I used to be a truck driver but no longer because I have choices in life. I drove mostly Freightliners.

    Cameras are the best (in my opinion) to use to eliminate blind spots. No amount of mirrors can fix that! The centrally positioned driver is a modern/better way and if JR feels otherwise he can continue driving those trucks with the conventional two seat in front.

    Elon’s comments about truckers standing around while they fill their tanks with diesel fuel is ABSOLUTELY correct. I used to do it!!! When filling the tank you need to pay attention to avoid spilling diesel for some trucks. Also you don’t ONLY clean windows, mirrors and headlights, check the tires etc… when filling the tanks with diesel. These checks are to be done every time you stop the truck to take a bathroom break, or have something to eat. This is hypocritically ridiculous. Which company does he drive for or is he an owner operator???

    For goodness sake this is only a PROTOTYPE semi.
    And…just for giggles why can’t JR wait till it’s production ready so he can go and TEST DRIVE the Tesla semi? I’ll bet he may come back something totally different and in that case I may give him some benefit.

    Actually, I’ll keep it short… anything JR does not like, he has a choice in life to decide to go for Tesla semi or the others.

    • In defense of JR (I don’t know him, but everyone deserves an advocate), the fact that there are real issues with the design of the Tesla is significant, especially because it’s not the only all-electric option. Volvo has a hybrid on the market now, and a full size bus chassis that’s fully electric. Cummins, too, has a fully electric truck in play, as does Nikola. If their concepts are closer to market and address the concerns of today’s truck buyers, then Tesla will lose “first mover” advantage … and that, plus a ton of hype, is the only advantage they have.

      • Emmanuel Debra

        You appear to just hate Tesla over other companies (Volvo, Cummins, Nikola) who are currently producing electric/hybrid prototypes…

        I applaud these companies for taking the plunge and pray they succeed. I’d love to test drive their trucks to see what progress the’ve made and NOT to state that they have “…a ton of hype” as you said about Tesla. And you think the other truck companies don’t have any hypes???

        My point is simple…I’d rather wait for production ready trucks, test drive and provide my input for the next level of improvement. And if they chose not to improve then heck I’ll go with another company.

        • Ricardo

          Well, you appear to be a shill. In life there are options and choices bla bla bla. But you don’t seem too happy to let people have those opinions and choices

          • Emmanuel Debra

            A shill only in your imagination!
            My comments do not indicate I don’t want people to have opinions and choice. Maybe you need to read over slowly and not fast that you miss what I’m saying…and while doing so please check you breath. You may be causing yourself more harm by the way you’re breathing while reading and answering to my comments…just want to save you any heartburn or negative over excitement.

            It’s a discussion and we can agree to disagree on statements made by anyone.
            I’m disagreeing on comments from Jo Barras and JR and IF you want to place yourself in hurling ‘stones’ at me, by all means do so…BUT remember neither you nor I can stop the sweep of EVs across the world, and sadly those who ONLY see the evil in Tesla. Anyone can disagree with Tesla all they want, and that’s fine with me…just read over why Jo Borras says “…plus a ton of hype…” and assigns that to ONLY Tesla and NOT Cummins, Volvo or Nikola. I have nothing against these companies…infact I wish them well!
            If I read anything that I disagree with I will say so. And IF that makes you want to call me names, please have at it.

          • Ricardo

            Oh please, you started with the insults yeah? ” JR may be representing a fossil fuel…” What? Accusing Borras of trying to, as you put it “stop the sweep of EVs across the world”? Don’t be pathetic. His contributions are well known. What have you done? Oh and, do you want to know why more and more people despise and make fun of tesla? Precisely because of guys like you. No one can say anything remotely less positive about your God. It’s the bloody inquisition all over again. Religion at its worst. You tesla fans are some of the most obnoxious, aggressive people in the world. Apple fans are little girls compared to you.

          • sjc_1

            You all need to get a life and quit living to argue about trivia.

  • mkc5301

    Sounds like Tesla’s specifications team made the classic beginner’s errors. They failed to fully engage with operators and first line supervisors and also failed to complete sufficient ride-alongs. All fleet people have done it at one time or another but it’s particularly egregious when it involves an OEM’s new vehicle or model.

  • Damien

    At the end of the day, if cameras give a more complete view (mirrors still leave pretty big blindspots with semis) and the mega chargers don’t increase travel time, reliability is there etc. etc. as Tesla claims, it doesn’t matter what some old fashioned trucker thinks. Major transport companies will buy them and if some dinosaur refuses to drive an EV then they’ll fire him and replace with some willing driver or none at all… More important than truckers, the companies that buy and operate trucks need to be convinced it’s superior to fossils and cost wise it certainly looks that way.

  • ElectricGuy

    My car is fairly old, but I drive current rentals. Backup cameras, obstructed side notification and more are included. New cars also include parking assist, which should be easily adaptable to backup assist. I would expect the same and more on the T Semi.

    The driver is spot on wrt screen brightness at night, but even my ‘05 has a night mode for the screen.

  • Brian

    The Tesla truck may not be perfect, but it does prevent us form using dirty fossil fuels and pumping more carbon into our air. Electricity is cheaper than diesel, and can be produced from wind and solar power. This trucker Jonathon Ramsey needs to look at the big picture, and see why we need to keep all dirty fossil fuels in the ground. Maintenance would also be cheaper with an electric truck. Tesla is forcing other companies like Cummins and Volvo to produce electric trucks, so Tesla is doing what is needed by forcing competition for electric trucks in the future.