San Francisco – Tesla, Inc. next month plans to unveil an electric big-rig truck with a working range of 200 to 300 miles, Reuters has learned, a sign that the electric car maker is targeting regional hauling for its entry into the commercial freight market.
Chief Executive Elon Musk has promised to release a prototype of its Tesla Semi truck next month in a bid to expand the company’s market beyond luxury cars. The entrepreneur has tantalized the trucking industry with the prospect of a battery-powered heavy-duty vehicle that can compete with conventional diesels, which can travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel.
Tesla’s electric prototype will be capable of traveling the low end of what transportation veterans consider to be “long-haul” trucking, according to Scott Perry, an executive at Miami-based fleet operator Ryder System, Inc. Perry said he met with Tesla officials earlier this year to discuss the technology at the automaker’s manufacturing facility in Fremont, California. Perry said Tesla’s efforts are centered on an electric big-rig known as a “day cab” with no sleeper berth, capable of traveling about 200 to 300 miles with a typical payload before recharging.
“I’m not going to count them out for having a strategy for longer distances or ranges, but right out of the gate I think that’s where they’ll start,” said Perry, who is the chief technology officer and chief procurement officer for Ryder.
Tesla responded to Reuters questions with an email statement saying, “Tesla’s policy is to always decline to comment on speculation, whether true or untrue, as doing so would be silly. Silly!”
Tesla’s plan, which could change as the truck is developed, is consistent with what battery researchers say is possible with current technology. Tesla has not said publicly how far its electric truck could travel, what it would cost or how much cargo it could carry. But Musk has acknowledged that Tesla has met privately with potential buyers to discuss their needs.
Reuters reported earlier this month that Tesla is developing self-driving capability for the big rig.
Musk has expressed hopes for large-scale production of the Tesla Semi within a couple of years. That audacious effort could open a potentially lucrative new market for the Palo Alto, California-based automaker.
Or it could prove an expensive distraction. Musk in July warned that the company is bracing for “manufacturing hell” as it accelerates production of its new Model 3 sedan. Tesla aims to produce 5,000 of the cars per week by the end of this year, and 10,000 per week some time next year.
Tesla shares are up about 65 percent this year. But skeptics abound. Some doubt Musk’s ability to take Tesla from a niche producer to a large-scale automaker. About 22 percent of shares available for trade have been sold “short” by investors who expect the stock to fall.
Musk, a quirky billionaire whose transportation ambitions include colonizing the planet Mars, has long delighted in defying conventional wisdom. At Tesla’s annual meeting in June, he repeated his promise of a battery-powered long-haul big rig.
“A lot of people don’t think you can do a heavy-duty, long-range truck that’s electric, but we are confident that this can be done,” he said.
While the prototype described by Ryder’s Perry would fall well short of the capabilities of conventional diesels, Musk may well have found a sweet spot if he can deliver. Roughly 30 percent of US trucking jobs are regional trips of 100 to 200 miles, according to Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer of Toronto-based Fleet Complete, which tracks and analyzes truck movement.
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