Tesla Unveils Its Electric 'Semi' Truck, And Adds A Roadster

Nov 17, 2017
Originally published on November 17, 2017 10:38 am

A workhorse truck and a new supercar are in the works for Tesla, after founder and CEO Elon Musk introduced his company's latest effort to widen the U.S. market for electric vehicles Thursday night. Musk called the Roadster "the fastest production car ever made, period."

Musk unveiled the Roadster toward the end of an event that was supposed to be all about Tesla's new Semi trucks. Taking a page from Apple and other tech companies in using showmanship to wow crowds, Musk surprised the crowd by announcing there was one more thing to add — and the new car rolled out of the truck's trailer.

After touting the utility and efficiency of what he called a game-changing truck, Musk welcomed the Roadster to cheers from those attending the event at the Hawthorne Municipal Airport near Los Angeles.

Both vehicles are fast: The Roadster can take itself from zero to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds, and the Semi can perform the same feat in five seconds (unburdened by a trailer), Tesla says.

Touting the sports car's speed, Tesla tweeted, "Going into plaid" — a reference to a hyperspace joke from the movie Spaceballs.

From there, the specs diverge.

The truck has a 500-mile range on one charge even if it's fully loaded at a gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds. It also comes with a million-mile guarantee on its powertrain. Musk said it will be able to maintain a speed of 65 mph while going up a 5 percent grade.

By contrast, the Roadster will be able to run a quarter-mile in 8.9 seconds. Its top speed is "above 250 mph," Musk said. The Roadster will have a range of 620 miles, he added.

The Roadster will be available in 2020.

Production of the truck is expected to begin in 2019; Musk said customers who order now would get the vehicles in two years.

On the morning after the unveiling, trucking and freight company J.B. Hunt announced that it had placed a reservation to buy "multiple Tesla Semi tractors," adding that it plans to use them mainly on the West Coast.

"Reserving Tesla trucks marks an important step in our efforts to implement industry-changing technology," J.B. Hunt President and CEO John Roberts said in a news release. "We believe electric trucks will be most beneficial on local and dray routes, and we look forward to utilizing this new, sustainable technology."

Tesla hasn't released a price for the Semi, but the Roadster will cost at least $200,000 depending on the options chosen, the company says. Reservations for both vehicles can be made with an initial deposit of $5,000 — but in the case of the Roadster, a total of at least $50,000 is due within 10 days.

In his presentation, Musk said the cost of operating an electric tractor-trailer would be $1.26 per mile, compared with $1.51 per mile in a diesel truck. The figure assumes a diesel price of $2.50 a gallon versus 7 cents/kWh for electricity and a maximum load traveling at an average speed of 60 mph. The company says that will translate into thousands of dollars in savings.

"Electric motors have advantages for hauling: fewer moving parts, cheap fuel and zero tailpipe pollution," NPR's Emily Sullivan reports. "But charging can be a challenge and Tesla big rigs will cost far more than diesel trucks."

In describing the truck, Musk also said its windshield is made of "thermonuclear explosion-proof glass" — a feature he says will help truckers stay on the road. Regulations require commercial trucks to be sidelined if their windshields are cracked in a way that could affect the driver's view.

Also unique to the Semi is the driver's seating position. The chair and steering wheel are in the cab's center.

Although Thursday night's event celebrated Tesla's largest and smallest new offerings, the company is grappling with how to smooth problems that have hit its flagship Model 3.

The family car was supposed to be Tesla's opening to a broad market, with a sticker price starting at $35,000 — but production snags have meant that instead of making thousands of Model 3s each month, Tesla produced only 260 in September. The anemic number fell far short of expectations; the company had received 140,000 advance orders for the car within hours of it being announced in the spring of 2016.

Those setbacks didn't do much to dampen the hype surrounding Thursday's unveiling — and it gained more energy as the Roadster, which from 2008 to 2012 was Tesla's star vehicle, returned to the lineup. In what has become something of a pattern in recent years, Musk has unveiled ambitious and even visionary new plans for Tesla, as the company copes with putting those ideas into effect — and cars on the road.

As Andrew J. Hawkins wrote of the new Roadster and Semi for The Verge, "These are just concept vehicles, really, but it's Tesla, and nothing is really ever as it seems."

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