On November 16th Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, made headlines by unveiling his Class 8 electric semi-truck to the public. The truck, set to go into production in 2019, is purportedly capable of hauling 80,000 pounds five hundred miles on a single charge. Musk also claimed that these trucks could run one million miles before needing repairs and that the company is planning to install mega-chargers that are capable of re-charging a truck’s mileage back to four hundred in a brief thirty minutes. Such an innovation could make long hauls using these electric trucks feasible.
There are, however, many financial experts and leaders in the trucking industry who have concerns about the technology. One of the primary apprehensions is the size of the battery. According to Michael Baudendistel, a senior research analyst for Stiefel Nicolaus and Company, a battery large enough to power a Class 8 semi-truck would weigh at the very least 10,000 pounds. A diesel truck engine on average weighs roughly 3,000 pounds. He believes that the size of the battery would “almost certainly cut into the payload capacity of a truck.” Another concern is infrastructure. In addition to producing the actual trucks Tesla also needs to create charging stations or build chargers at already established truck stops. Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Association has stated that electric trucks will be part of the future of the transportation industry. However, he highlighted the importance of infrastructure stating “If you can’t fill it up you won’t buy it.” An additional trepidation is the price. During the initial debut of the truck Musk did not share a price. However, he has since detailed that Tesla’s three hundred mile range truck will cost $150,000 while the five hundred mile truck will cost $180,000. These prices are significantly higher than the average cost of a diesel truck, which price at $120,000. Tesla will have a difficult time convincing smaller trucking companies to adopt this technology without a significant amount of testing that reveals hefty operation cost savings.
The large price tag has not turned off big logistics firms, vendors, and retailers though. Shortly after the reveal, Tesla received orders from J. B. Hunt, DHL, and Sysco while XPO Logistics is already partnered with Tesla and is currently testing the technology. Anheuser-Busch and Wal-Mart have also placed orders and several weeks ago Tesla received the largest order yet when PepsiCo pre-ordered one hundred trucks. Many of these companies have pledged to reduce carbon-emissions over the next several decades. The electric truck is alluring to these large firms in that it will not only help them keep their commitments but potentially reduce operational costs long term.
Tesla is not the lone company attempting to develop electric trucking technology. There are a slew of other firms attempting to electrify the trucking industry including traditional manufacturers such as Cummins and Daimler who have developed their own versions of battery powered trucks. There are also several start-ups who have stepped into the ring. One of these companies is Nikola. They have partnered with Bosch to create a battery powered/hydrogen engine they believe, when completely developed, will allow trucks to travel 1,200 miles on a single charge. They hope to begin manufacturing their trucks by 2021.
The adoption of electric trucks will be slow, much like the development of the light-bulb, the electrification of the country, and even the adoption of the ideas of Nikola Tesla himself. However, there is general recognition across the trucking industry that innovation and technological advancements are key to sustainability and growth. Automation is gaining steam, HOS (Hours of Service) will now be tracked electronically through ELDs (Electronic Logging Devices), and freight can now be tracked via cell-phone applications. Electrifying trucks is simply another new current in an industry that has been relatively static for decades.