Game Changer: Tesla rolls out its electric big rig truck (Update)

UPDATE Wal-Mart is planning to test Tesla's electric semitractor-trailer and has preordered 15, the retailer says. The pilot is planned for the U.S. and Canada.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services announced earlier on Friday it has reserved "multiple" new electric semis just unveiled by Elon Musk.

Tesla's electric semi will bury the diesel engine once and for all
Tesla's 500-mile range electric semi will bury the diesel engine once and for all


Tesla Motors took over an aircraft hangar at Hawthorne airport Thursday night to show off a new electric semi, pickup and Roadster that the company says outshine their combustion-engine counterparts in all areas.

CEO Elon Musk introduced the vehicles on a stage facing the runway, adjacent to the Tesla Design Studio and at the site of aviation pioneer Jack Northrop’s former headquarters. Two futuristic semi trucks, in shiny silver and matte gray, pulled up next to him displaying sleek LED lights and sharply angled faces.

The fully electric trucks “are designed like a bullet," Musk said. They can go zero to 60 in 5 seconds (or 20 seconds if fully loaded), climb a steep hill at 65 mph, and carefully pull off the road to call for help if the driver’s hands leave the wheel, he said. The driver’s seat is in the center like a racecar.

“It’s not like any truck that you’ve ever driven," said Musk, wearing dark jeans, a black T-shirt and brown jacket. “We are guaranteeing this truck will not break down for a million miles because it has four independent motors. Even if you only have two motors active, it’ll still beat a diesel trucks."

More significantly for trucking companies, Musk said that a standard diesel truck would be 20% more expensive to operate than a Tesla truck: $1.26 per mile compared to $1.51 per mile.

Hundreds of invited guests watched the event, including one man who shouted: “Elon for president" while the billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX founder spoke.

“That’s the most miserable job," Musk replied.

Musk hinted at a supercharger-less trip — no recharges needed.

The driver can stand up in the cabin
The driver can stand up in the cabin

"You can go 250 miles, deliver your load and come back," he said. That said, charging to 80% would take only 30 minutes, "or about the time of the average driver break" on a new solar-powered Megacharger network.

More stats spilled out from there, including a 0.36 drag coefficient, a bit less than a $3 million Bugatti Chiron, thanks to a flat bottom. Musk also said the company was guaranteeing the Tesla Semi for 1 million miles.

"It's like driving a Model S or Model X, but it's just big," Musk said, referring to the brand's two current models, an electric luxury sedan and SUV.

At that point, someone in the crowd yelled: "Elon for president!" Musk laughed.

Two trucks sat in a large hanger-like facility, alongside two examples of conventional diesel trucks. The Tesla Semis were painted menacing black and glimmering silver. One featured spidery side view mirrors while the other did not, suggesting that Tesla engineers are playing with using cameras and screens in place of traditional mirrors.

While the exterior’s smooth surfaces are eye-catching, the Tesla Semi’s interior was designed to make truck drivers swoon. In the place of a typical cramped two passenger compartment is an airy space you can walk around.

By far the biggest revolution is in the driver’s seat placement. It is dead center and far forward thanks to the absence of an engine, allowing greater road visibility. A jump seat is positioned to the right and rear of the driver.

From this central, Formula One-style driving position, it's easy to monitor two screens, one left, one right, offering details of the truck’s running condition and the trucker’s shipment details.

The Tesla Semi has the upcoming Model 3 to thank for its existence. Beyond borrowing cockpit screens, flush door handles and the car’s Autopilot system, the Semi’s powertrain consists of four Model 3 drive axles, one powering each of the four rear wheels (the front wheels are unpowered).

The battery pack for the Tesla Semi, which is located low and behind the driver, remains a mystery in terms of its construction and precise range.

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