Tesla unveils Semi Truck, its biggest 'electrifying' gamble yet

After building up hype through a series of tweets and a near-revealing teaser, Tesla finally showed the world it’s next big thing. And it’s really big - a Class 8, 18-wheeled, Semi truck that are dime a dozen on American freeways. Needless to say, it’s fully electric and powered by lithium-ion battery packs, like all things Tesla.

With a sleek, sophisticated and aerodynamic design, Tesla’s Semi is impressive the moment you set sights on it. The vertically-stacked LED lights, the smooth and rounded fascia without the ubiquitous grille, the wraparound windshield, the flush-fitting panels that form the cab and the enclosed rear wheels makes the Tesla Semi a truck unlike anything we’ve seen before. 

Access to the cab is through a pair of rear-hinged doors with flush-fitted handles. The absence of a diesel engine up front meant Tesla could drop the nose of the cab down vertically, let the driver sit right in the center of the cabin and allow for full standing room inside. What’s a Tesla without a touchscreen? The Semi gets two of them - 15 inches in size - on either side of the 3-spoke steering wheel and they control everything from navigation to blind spot monitoring to electronic data logging to connectivity to the operator’s fleet management system. These aside, a few cup holders, a solitary button for hazard lights and a jump seat are all that could be seen! 

Safety has been prioritized with the Tesla Semi getting features like a thermonuclear explosion proof windshield, a reinforced battery pack, onboard sensors to look for signs of jackknifing and adjust power to individual wheels to maintain stability, surround cameras and the brand’s popular ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ that makes the truck capable of driving itself on the highway, staying in its lane and maintaining a safe distance from neighboring vehicles.

Alright, let’s talk numbers now as that’s what these trucks are built for. Without a trailer, the Tesla Semi can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (100 km/h) in an incredible 5 seconds, faster than many supposedly fast cars. Hauling a full 80,000-pound load, the same feat is achieved in 20 seconds, almost four times as much faster than a diesel truck. Notably, Tesla claims its Semi climbs 5% grades at a steady 65 mph whereas a diesel truck maxes out at 45 mph. Regenerative braking recovers 98% of the kinetic energy to the battery and the absence of gears and clutch ensure smooth build-up and shedding of speed. 

Incredibly, Tesla Semi has a claimed Drag Coefficient of 0.36 which is superior to Bugatti Chiron’s 0.38! 

Armed with four independent electric motors, two in each axle, and an undisclosed-but-higher-capacity battery pack, the Tesla Semi reportedly generates an equivalent of 1000 horsepower. Being an electric vehicle, all the torque should be available from standstill which is a boon for load-hauling trucks. Tesla’s claimed range is 500 miles, better than what was expected to be honest. As always, Tesla has come up with a buzzword with this unveiling. Welcome 'Megachargers', the solar-powered high-speed DC charging solution that adds up to 400 miles in 30 minutes and can be installed at origin or destination points or along heavily-trafficked routes. 

Crucially, Tesla claims superior reliability owing to fewer moving parts than a diesel truck and lower total cost of ownership with expected savings of over $200,000 over a million miles on fuel cost alone with its Semi.

Bookings for the Tesla Semi can be done with an advance payment of $5,000 and production is expected to start 2019. Add a couple of years buffer and you know the earliest date you'll have your Semi delivered. 

As much as Tesla tries to present its Semi as a tempting proposition for fleet operators, the challenge ahead is quite clear. Tesla isn't the first-mover in electric trucks and it's not going to be easy convincing the targeted clientele. At least, not as easy as convincing the hundreds of thousands of car-buyers that hopped onto the Tesla bandwagon.

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