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.

 

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.