With the Semi, Tesla is entering the burgeoning electric truck market

By unveiling its first electric truck, the Semi, on Thursday, Tesla aims to shake up the nascent market for zero-emission trucks by promising to drive long distances without stopping at a charging station.

Elon Musk’s team is due to hand over the keys to the PepsiCo food group at its Sparks, Nevada plant on Thursday.

The cabin truck with circular lines was introduced in 2017. However, the launch of its large-scale production, originally planned for 2019, has been postponed.

Other manufacturers have already invested in the field, whether they are traditional manufacturers of heavy trucks such as Daimler, Volvo, Traton (a subsidiary of Volkswagen) and China’s BYD, or startups such as American Nicola. Deliveries are just starting, but many orders have already been placed.

“The truck the market has been waiting for is Tesla,” says Dave Mullaney, a transportation expert at sustainability firm RMI.

Other manufacturers have built on their experience in heavy-duty trucks, converting a primarily diesel-powered truck to an electric vehicle. Tesla, for its part, is “launching a truck that was designed from the ground up to be electric,” he notes. If the American group follows through on its promises, it will “make a big difference.”

Elon Musk said in a tweet on Saturday that the truck has a range of 500 miles (805 kilometers) without a charge, weighs about 37 tons, compared to the 250 to 300 miles (400 to 480 kilometers) of cars currently on offer. .).

– Is it physically possible? –

To transport heavy loads over long distances, “the battery has to be very large; it’s heavy, it takes up space, and it’s very expensive,” recalls Mike Roeth, director of the North American Council on Transportation Efficiency (NACFE). “Industry players have long wondered whether it’s physically possible to have a battery that’s powerful enough to do the job without being too heavy.”

The transition to electric vans for urban or short-haul deliveries has been underway for some time.

If electric heavy-duty trucks can travel 800 kilometers without recharging, this opens up a niche for long-distance trips, returning to the depot in the same evening or several days. .

Manufacturers and carriers are governed by regulations. In the US, California has passed a law phasing out heat engine trucks as other states have followed suit. The European Union must discuss new standards in the coming months.

Companies are also increasingly focusing on being environmentally conscious to protect their reputation. Marie Cheron of the European Transport and Environment Association says they “want to be on the right side of history”.

Those not engaged in a decarbonisation strategy sometimes “hold back” the idea of ​​allowing technologies to improve a bit more, he argues.

Another incentive: drivers who can test drive them “love electric trucks,” says Mike Roeth. “They’re quiet, there’s no exhaust, they’re easier to drive.”

– Same cost –

To accelerate the adoption of electric trucks, autonomy needs to really live up to the promise and, ideally, the batteries need to be smaller, several analysts interviewed by AFP noted.

The infrastructure must also accommodate more charging points and a sufficiently strong power grid to allow, for example, ten trucks to connect to the parking lot at the same time. Price will be decisive.

Dave Mullaney points out that for now, an electric truck costs about 70% more to buy than a diesel truck, but is cheaper in terms of energy and maintenance.

“Electric cars will compete with diesel engines (…), it’s only a matter of time,” said a spokesman for the American manufacturer Navistar, a subsidiary of Traton.

Tesla now “needs to prove they can produce at scale,” notes Wedbush’s Dan Ives.

Elon Musk announced at the end of October that he aims to build 50,000 Semis by 2024.

He proved in 2018, when production of the Model 3 sedan struggled to ramp up, that he knows how to fire up his teams.

But the entrepreneur’s current focus on his latest acquisition, Twitter, “should be a great moment in Tesla’s history,” complains Dan Ives.

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