Tesla Semi, Roadster battery claims prove puzzling: beyond current knowledge?

Tesla Semi

Tesla Semi

Since Tesla’s reveal of its new Semi and Roadster models, many technical analysts have been left scratching their collective heads.

How can Tesla promise performance metrics far exceeding what’s currently physically and economically possible?

According to one analyst, it may not be a matter of what batteries can do now, but what they can do tomorrow.

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Bloomberg compiled a list of four seemingly impossible claims made by Musk during the reveal of the Semi and Roadster.

Those claims include the Semi’s 500-mile range when hauling 80,000 pounds, the Semi’s purported 30-minute charge time for 400 miles of range, Tesla’s guaranteed charging rate of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour for Semi customers, and the Roadster’s 620-mile range.

Bloomberg then attempted to reconcile each claim with reality.

Tesla Semi

Tesla Semi

For the Semi’s claimed 500-mile range, Bloomberg estimates the necessary 800 kilowatt-hour battery pack would weigh over 10,000 pounds and cost more than $100,000.

That last figure is important as Tesla has priced the truck at $180,000. The cost of the battery leaves Tesla with $80,000 for building the rest of the truck.

To put that in perspective, a typical Class 8 truck costs between $100,000 and $125,000.

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However, Bloomberg believes Musk is banking on a significant reduction in the price of batteries before the Semi begins duty for customers in early 2020.

“By the time Tesla gets large orders, batteries should cost considerably less,” says the Bloomberg article.

Tesla Semi

Tesla Semi

Juicing up such a large battery for 400 miles of range in 30 minutes is well beyond the capability of any current charger.

Salim Morsy, electric vehicle analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, was blunt regarding the Semi’s charging stats.

“I don’t understand how that works,” said Morsy. “I really don't.”

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Tesla’s current Supercharger, which provides 180 miles of range to a Model S sedan in 30 minutes, has a power output of 120 kilowatts.

Using those numbers and Tesla’s quoted Semi charging time, the company needs to develop a new charger—currently dubbed Megacharger—with an output of 1200 kW, Bloomberg finds.

Can Tesla do that? Maybe. And if it can, the new Tesla Semi will be able to perform the duties of nearly two-thirds of the Class 8 market, said a representative for one of the company’s largest shareholders.

Tesla Semi

Tesla Semi

Back to economics, Tesla promised a 7 cent per kilowatt-hour rate for Semi owners, which could represent a massive cost saving measure for operators—more than $30,000 a year for some.

Still, that promise puts Tesla in a pickle. How can Tesla sell electricity at that rate when it costs almost $1 per kilowatt-hour to provide it today through its Supercharger network?

Morsy thinks this problem will be solved by where chargers are placed and how they pull electricity from the grid.

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