Gas2 Week in Review: Tesla Semi Updates & Analyses

The Tesla Semi was the spark that lit up green transportation news again this week. Sure, Elon Musk revealed that Tesla is developing custom AI hardware chips, skeptics were forecasting the company’s demise because Model 3 deliveries were slow, and rivals tried to imitate the all-electric car company at the LA Auto Show. But the flame was still kindled and strong whenever conversations turned to the Tesla Semi.

tesla semi

The Semi has the potential to change the trucking industry in a way that no other large transportation vehicle has, with a purchase price tag that the Business Insider describes as — depending on options — anywhere from $150,00 – $180,000. An 80% recharge will finish in 30 minutes, and the single-charge range will reportedly be around 500 miles.

If you’d like to figure for yourself what the cost of a Tesla Semi will be, we suggest that you take a look at this video from Gas2 fav YouTuber Ben Sullins, who’s so good at helping curious minds sort out the Tesla phenomenon.

Tesla Semi Energy Consumption Amounts under Debate

Tesla describes the Semi as “the safest, most comfortable truck ever,” and four independent motors will produce what could be the lowest and most sustainable energy cost of any big rig. But it’s that very Tesla Semi energy consumption that has some in the industry scratching their heads. CEO Elon preened during the introduction of the electric Class 8 truck on November 16 and assured the impatient masses that the Semi will use under 2 kWh of energy for every mile traveled.

The audience nodded, envisioning road conditions of a full load in steady speed operation on level ground. The company would likely use SolarCity solar panels and Tesla Powerpacks as Megachargers. One or even two large storage batteries would zap the Semis with solar energy after they roll into a truck stop at the edge of the charging metropolis.

But that’s the ideal energy consumption version of the Semi as disseminated under the Hawthorne lights. John Feddersen, director of Aurora Energy Research, which draws upon data-driven analytics on European and global energy markets to provide intelligence on the global energy transformation, recently told the Financial Times that the power needed to recharge one Tesla Semi in 30 minutes would power up to 3,200 typical UK homes for one hour.

His calculations were based on hauling a fully loaded cargo trailer for 500 miles, which parallels Musk’s claim of the real-world range of the Tesla Semi. Feddersen included uphill climbs and on-ramp acceleration into his reasoning, and these would demand additional energy even with recaptured energy capacity under deceleration and braking.

Tesla Semi

The editors of Norwegian news site TV2 have done some calculations, too, and they’ve determined that the Tesla Semi would power 700 Norwegian homes for one hour. The difference in calculations between Feddersen and TV2 is because the typical Norwegian home uses much more energy than one in the UK — 20,000 kWh per year versus 4,000 kWh.

More Sign-Up’s for the Tesla Semi Every Week

Additional major companies this week announced that they, too, would be testing out a small batch of the Tesla Semis to determine how much the all-electric truck could strengthen their bottom lines. Sysco Corporation, that purveyor of all things food service, announced that it has reserved 50 units of the yet-to-be-produced Tesla Semi truck. Sysco handles supply needs for much of the food industry in the US.

The pre-order for 50 units of the Tesla Semi Truck from Sysco adds to what’s becoming a sizable list of Who’s Who joining the all-electric trucking transportation industry. In case you’re tallying, the Sysco order brought the total for announced Tesla Semi reservations up to 166. Previously announced Tesla Semi orders included:

  • Loblaw, the Canadian grocer: 25
  • Walmart, the US low price retailer: 15
  • DHL, a division of Deutsche Post AG: 10
  • and other sprinkled amounts of smaller orders from fleet operators and logistics companies.

But wait! Another Tesla Semi reservation announcement was trending this week. Anheuser-Busch reserved 40 units of the Tesla Semi Truck, and the order is, as far as we know, the largest number that any single company has yet reserved. Reuters says that the US subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch, InBev NV, plans to use the trucks for shipments to wholesalers within the expected maximum 500-mile charge range.

Anheuser-Busch representatives state that the Tesla Semi purchase is quite consistent with company goals to make their supply chain more sustainable, efficient, and innovative. James Sembrot, Senior Director of Logistics Strategy for Anheuser-Busch, notes that the investment in Tesla Semi trucks will help their company to reduce fueling costs and emissions while improving road safety and lowering our environmental impact.

“Integrating the Tesla semi-trucks into the brewer’s distribution network will help Anheuser-Busch achieve its commitment to reduce its operational carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2025 – the equivalent of removing nearly 500,000 cars from the road globally each year. “

Now all that Sysco, Anheuser-Busch, and the other companies with Tesla Semi reservations have to do is wait, like the rest of us in the wings, for tech testing and production. Hopefully, their stockholders don’t mind the expenditure of the large deposit required to join the elite Tesla club.

More Enthusiasm-Turned-to-Purchase Power Expected in Coming Weeks

The Tesla Semi electric tractor-trailer has been the trigger of much speculation and enthusiasm since CEO Elon Musk announced its development last summer. Will the Tesla Semi change the way we think about trucking in the near future? The idea of a truck that can drive itself for the duration of a medium range haul using Autopilot is quite compelling. So, too, is the oft-quoted price tag of just $1.26 a mile or under to run as opposed to $1.51 for a diesel propelled truck.

Of course, there are still many unknowns when discussing the Tesla Semi. Will Tesla be able to meet advanced production quotes, which have proven problematic during the introduction of  its other models? How much will a battery pack necessary to produce 500 miles of range cost? Could battery costs push the purchase price of a Tesla Semi up to as much as $400,000? Will enough wholesale energy sources be available to obtain Musk’s claim of 25-cents-per-mile saving?

Sometimes it’s all these unknowns that make Tesla so exciting. After all, disruptive forces come from a place of trial-and-error, of helping people to reconceptualize what “normal” looks like, and of a bit of luck to turn a technological idea into practical and sustainable reality. But for those of us who’ve been following Elon Musk, we’ve come to expect the remarkable.

The wait for the Tesla Semi should be worth it. Production is expected to begin in 2019.

Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+