Likely to be the first fully electric semi truck produced in volume, and with enough driving range on a single charge to make city-to-city hauls, the new vehicle should be an important early step in the electrification of semis. In addition, as Tesla's first heavy-duty truck, the so-called Tesla Semi may represent a key growth opportunity for the company.
The first mention of Tesla's plan for a semi truck was in the company's July 2016 "Master Plan, Part Deux." In the plan, which came 10 years after the electric-car company's first master plan, Tesla said it intended to launch vehicles to cover all major forms of terrestrial transport. One of these new vehicles mentioned was a heavy-duty truck. In addition, Tesla said its semi truck was already in the early stages of development and would be ready to be unveiled in 2017.
By April of this year, Tesla said the vehicle would be ready for an unveiling in September. But Tesla is now aiming for an October unveiling.
"Tesla Semi truck unveil & test ride tentatively scheduled for Oct 26th in Hawthorne [California]," Musk said on Twitter Wednesday. "Worth seeing this beast in person. It's unreal."
Not much is known about Tesla's semi truck. But here's a look at the little information that has surfaced before the truck's unveiling.
- Tesla Semi "will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transportation," Tesla has said.
- It will increase safety and be fun to operate, Tesla also said.
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed during a TED talk earlier this year that the truck will be capable of long hauls.
- Tesla Semi will reportedly be able to drive itself in "platoons," following a lead vehicle, according to Reuters. This could eliminate the need for a driver in all but the lead vehicle.
- Reuters has also said it "learned" that Tesla plans for the semi to be able to drive 200 to 300 miles on a single charge.
The value proposition
Beyond positioning the new truck as a way to reduce the cost of cargo transportation, Tesla will likely present its Autopilot technology as a key selling point. Tesla currently includes its driver-assist Autopilot hardware in every vehicle it delivers. This technology enables automatic steering, acceleration, braking, and lane changes on the highway, and is key in reducing crashes caused by driver error.
Indeed, after an investigation of Tesla's first-generation Autopilot hardware's performance, NHTSA concluded that the crash rate for Tesla Autopilot-equipped vehicles dropped 40% compared to vehicles without the tech.
Of course, the bigger vision for long-haul cargo transportation is one that is fully autonomous -- a technology Tesla believes it is at the forefront of developing. Tesla updated its Autopilot hardware last October to include what it asserts is necessary for autonomous driving. The new hardware, which Tesla now ships with every vehicle, would not only enable an enhanced version of Autopilot but eventually enable fully autonomous driving -- even without drivers.
John Krafcik, the CEO of Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) self-driving company Waymo, recently said he believes driverless-vehicle technology will be used in trucks before it is in ridesharing services. "Ride-sharing makes a lot of sense for the world. For goods transportation, which could travel primarily on highways, there's a good and compelling use-case [for autonomous driving technology] there, too," Krafcik noted at Bloomberg's Sooner Than You Think conference. "Either of those two might be the first ones you see."
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Tesla, and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.