Tesla Semi 'has truckmaker disruption potential'

Expert sees creativity and innovation making battery truck a commercial proposition

Tesla Semi 'has truckmaker disruption potential'
The Tesla Semi teaser image


With Tesla’s prototype battery-drive long-haul prime mover due to be unveiled next month, there has been plenty of debate in the US on whether founder Elon Musk has bitten off more than he can chew.

On the affirmative side are those who believe the physics, competitive propulsion sources and existing manufacturers, particularly Toyota, and new ones, such as Nikola, will spoil Musk’s trucking party.

On the other are those, such as engineering expert Randy Carlson, who speculate that the Tesla Semi will be of a radical design and come with innovative battery replacement services to help boost its range and reduce costs.

After undertaking careful analysis of the possible options, Carlson believes the use of induction motors, innovative cooling solutions and planetary reduction gearing, along with a hollow box-beam frame, amongst other developments, will help Tesla’s cause. 

He calculates that, after 30,000 miles per month, the cost per mile could be around 20 per cent lower than a comparably sized diesel-powered Freightliner Cascadia.

If this was borne out, the challenge would be for existing manufacturers to avoid deep disruption.

Despite that, he acknowledges Tesla has formidable manufacturing challenges ahead.

"The difficulty for established truck makers should Tesla's truck be a success will be similar to the problem legacy ICE car makers are facing with the advent of practical, good performing electric cars," Carlson says.

"In the case of heavy trucks, however, the shift in market demand - driven largely by economic considerations - could be much more abrupt. This could leave legacy truck makers scrambling for three things: High speed, compact, liquid cooled induction motor drivelines, sufficient cell supply to build lots of trucks with huge batteries, and charging or battery swapping infrastructure to support their electric truck models in service.

"All of the things legacy truck makers need to compete in electric line-haul heavy trucks are things Tesla is good at, things where Tesla holds a lead in technology, manufacturing or capacity. And, when it comes to cell supply and electric driveline engineers, carmakers scrambling to enter the electric car arena will be competing for those assets, too.

"Tesla building say 10,000 heavy trucks of the kind described would require the equivalent of 60,000 Model 3 motors, inverters and drivelines - something significant but manageable. A much more significant impact would be on the battery side.

"If the 10,000 Tesla heavy trucks each use the 2MWh battery, and swapping stations average one inventory turn per day, then 4MWh of truck batteries will be needed for each truck (one battery in the truck + one battery in inventory at a swap station).

"Ten thousand trucks a year on this basis would require 40GWh of additional cell supply. This is more than the entire design capacity of the fully built out Nevada GigaFactory. It is also more cells than Tesla will need to make 500,000 Model 3 cars.

"No wonder Elon Musk is talking about building a lot more GigaFactories."

The full analysis can be found in the August edition of ATN. Click here to subscribe.

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