Tesla is starting production of its electric Semi, and the first of them will be delivered to Pepsi starting December 1, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed Thursday via Twitter.
It’s been a long road to production for the project, which was revealed in 2017, with the company then saying the Semi would go into production in 2019.
That said, it’s sooner than Musk had led shareholders to believe earlier this year. As recently as January, Musk had said that the wait for the Cybertruck, Roadster, and Semi would stretch to 2023, as the company pushed new products off and focused this year on scaling output of its existing products, as well as dealing with supply-chain delays and chip shortages.
Not the first, but a huge efficiency advantage?
Considering the delays, Tesla isn’t the first with a Class 8 electric semi. One of the other rivals, Freightliner, unveiled its first pre-production eCascadia models in 2019, and put the trucks to use with customers, accumulating more than a million real-world miles as of 2021. The eCascadia entered regular series production in May.
Prototype for Tesla Semi electric semi-trailer truck
Musk insisted in a follow-up tweet that the Semi would have a 500-mile range and be “super fun to drive.” The range would be a big advantage over the eCascadia’s 230 miles, with its 438-kwh battery pack, if it proves true—and there remain skeptics. Final specs of the Semi haven’t been posted.
In August Musk suggested Semis would start shipping by the end of the year, but if there’s been a Tesla project with more sliding timelines than even fans can keep up with, this has been it.
It’s been about batteries
The reasons Musk has been most vocal about relate to batteries. At various points, Musk has explained that the Semi’s production ramp-up was being delayed partly or entirely because it depended on so many cells, The Semi requires about five times as many cells as for a car.
Cylindrical cells - Panasonic hinting at 4680 progress
Musk also complained in July 2021 that the company’s “Baskin-Robbins of batteries”—read: too many kinds—situation needed to be remedied. But ultimately it was an all-of-the-above approach that helped the company gain enough batteries—including the company’s own ramp of its 4680 cell format, the continued use of the 2170 format for many vehicles, and its shift to LFP cells for some models.
Then, in September, Tesla’s VP of investor relations Martin Viecha suggested, at a Goldman Sachs presentation, that cell supply was no longer such an issue.
Tesla Supercharger station V3, Las Vegas
So with Semis soon appearing in some highly visible fleets, how will they get charges for quick turnaround? In short, don’t look for big Megacharger truck stops ready to serve Tesla Semis, as its Supercharger stations do for its EVs. Don’t look for Megachargers at Supercharger stations either.
Tesla Megachargers’ moment has passed
According to Tesla senior charging policy manager Francesca Wahl, responding in a Q&A this past week at the CharIn North America Conference in Portland, attended by Green Car Reports, it’s not going to happen—at least not anytime soon.
“We don’t necessarily envision ourselves as a public—even heavy-duty—fast-charging owner-operator, potentially unless it’s for our own fleet,” said Wahl, responding to a question about how Tesla plans to engage in megawatt-level charging.
“So similar to others, initially, probably there will be a lot of depot charging, then there will be public charging,” Wahl added. “And so I think we are really interested to see who will play that role, how the federal funding will play into that and provide the support as well, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing Supercharger sites as heavy-duty sites anytime soon.”
The 1.5-megawatt Tesla Megacharger concept, which was essentially rolled out with the Semi prototype, has already been installed in test units at its Nevada Gigafactory, at Frito-Lay headquarters, and perhaps at other client facilities.
But it might not get much further than this. Tesla isn’t proprietary with its charging format in Europe. There, where the charging infrastructure was already well built-out by the time of its market entry, its vehicles use the CCS format. And with the additional hurdles of siting and building a megawatt station—plus the possibility of public money that will stipulate format-agnostic—there are incentives to go with the almost fully baked Megawatt Charging Standard, or MCS, that the CharIn conference focused on.
Tesla suggested in 2020 that it’s looking to deploy infrastructure with other parties, and settle on a standard powerful enough to charge a truck during mandated breaks. And with the automaker’s continued participation in the development of the Megawatt Charging Standard, or MCS, that’s effectively it. Instead of the choke between multiple charging standards, the rare and expensive infrastructure around future megawatt truck stops will hopefully be deployed for the lower pollution and carbon emissions of all those looking to ship goods around, not just those who choose a single brand.