Tesla delivered Thursday evening the first production versions of its long-delayed electric semi truck five years after CEO Elon Musk revealed the commercial vehicle. The first Tesla Semi trucks were handed over to Pepsi at an event at the company gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.
Pepsi placed an order for 100 trucks back in December 2017, when the Tesla Semi was first revealed. Other high-profile customers-in-waiting include Anheuser-Busch, Walmart and UPS.
Tesla appeared to have at least five Semis at the event, which had PepsiCo and Frito-Lay branding. Pepsi previously shared plans to use at least 15 of the Tesla Semis to turn its Modesto, California Frito-Lay site into a zero-emissions facility.
The big reveal comes a couple of months after Musk tweeted that production on the long-delayed Semi had started, with first deliveries to begin in December 2022.
Musk had originally introduced an electric Class 8 truck prototype in 2017 and planned to start production in December 2019. The trucking program has been plagued by delays. During its second quarter 2021 earnings report, Tesla said it would need to push production out to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells.
Holding Tesla to its 2017 promises
Back in 2017, Tesla said Autopilot, the automaker’s advanced driver assistance system, would be on the Tesla Semi. At Thursday’s event neither Musk nor Dan Priestley, senior manager of Tesla Semi Engineering, mentioned any automated capabilities of the truck, nor discussed the placement of the cameras that would be needed for Autopilot to “see.”
However, Tesla did stay true to several of its other 2017 promises. For example, five years ago, Tesla said its Semi would be able to travel 500 miles on a single battery charge when fully loaded and driving 65 miles per hour. The automaker appears to have delivered on that promise Thursday and even demonstrated with a video showing a Semi drive from Fremont to San Diego. The company did not provide some important stats, however, including the size of the battery pack size.
In the past, Musk had said the Semi will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 20 seconds when fully loaded, but the executive didn’t mention that capability on Thursday. However, Musk Priestley did tout the power of the Semi to easily pass another truck on a highway while loaded with goods and going up a 6% incline.
The Semi uses the same powertrain as the Plaid Model S and Model X and relies on a “tri-motor system.” Priestley said that means one of the motors is constantly engaged for maximum efficiency and the other two are for torque and acceleration, which could come in handy if a driver was getting onto a loading dock or wanted to pass another vehicle.
“It can basically pull 82,000 pounds at cruise, and the only thing that’s doing it is a tiny little motor on one axle,” said Musk, noting that the motor was about the size of a football but, because of its energy density, was more powerful than a diesel engine. In fact, Priestley said the Semi had three times the power of any diesel truck on the road right now.
Musk said the Semi was fast to accelerate and fast to break. As promised, the Semi is built with regenerative braking, which means the brakes deliver power to the battery when drivers take their foot off the accelerator.
“We get to the bottom of the hill, and we have cold brakes,” said Musk. “That’s like mind blowing in the trucking world.”
Musk also noted that the wheels have better traction — good enough to stop the truck from jackknifing — than a diesel truck because electric motors are more precise than diesel engines.
The inside cab of the truck, as previously advertised, is built with the seat in the middle. Priestley said drivers would be able to stand up and change clothes within the cab, which is built with cargo space for tools, as well as charging ports.
“You’ve got efficiency in every aspect of the vehicle. There’s one touch suspension dump so it gets very easy to attach to the trailer. It saves time and money,” said Musk.
“Really we’re trying to extend the idea of this efficiency from not just while you’re on the road, but into the yard, as well. So before and after the truck has done its job on the road,” said Priestley.
Part of the reason Tesla was able to pull off so much “efficiency” was because it could rely on the learnings from its active car fleet.
“We’re coming off of a great launching pad with everything that’s done in the rest of our products already,” said Priestley. “It’s also enabled because Tesla’s got this whole vertical integration on the software and the hardware side, so the teams are working together to put all that together into one package. This is a huge win for all of our products, but particularly Semi.”
Tesla will be able to accumulate more data to improve the Semi in the future by putting the trucks into its own fleet and using them to transport goods between Tesla factories and suppliers.
Finally, Tesla has stayed true to its charging vision from five years ago. Semis will be charged with a “megawatt class charger” that feature a next-gen immersive cooling system. These chargers will be similar to Tesla’s supercharger network. The company will also install Megapacks alongside the chargers, which are an energy storage system that prevents peak electricity surges from the grid.