Tesla unveils electric semi truck, vowing to redefine trucking

  • Tesla unveiled its long-awaited electric semi truck.
  • Its slick design allows truckers to stand in the cab.
  • CEO Elon Musk said he expects the Semi will give drivers a far better experience, while increasing safety and significantly reducing the costs.

After months of teasing investors and fans that his company's first electric semi will "blow your mind," Tesla CEO Elon Musk finally took the wraps off the truck.

Actually, he rolled into the unveiling in Hawthorne, California, sitting in the cab of the new Tesla Semi.

With a slick design that will allow truckers to stand in the cab, Musk and his team believe the electric semi will give drivers a far better experience, while increasing safety and significantly reducing the costs.

The biggest difference between the Tesla Semi and other Class 8 trucks is the location of steering wheel and the driver. Instead of being on the left-hand side (or on the right side in Europe), the steering wheel is in the center of the cab with one touchscreen panel positioned on both sides of the driver.

Elon Musk
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Elon Musk

In addition, Tesla said each truck will have built-in connectivity that integrates directly with a fleet's management system to allow routing and remote monitoring.

The Tesla Semi will draw on parts and lessons learned from building the Model S, X and 3. For example, the Tesla Semi will feature four Model 3 electric motors and the touchscreen panels in the cab are the same ones used in the Model 3.

In addition, because the Tesla Semi does not have a large diesel-powered engine, the driver has been pushed farther forward and will ride in a more spacious cab than a traditional Class 8 semi. The first editions of the Tesla Semi do not include a sleeper compartment for truck drivers.

While Musk and his team believe the Tesla Semi will change the trucking industry, Wall Street analysts say its impact will depend on how the economics of the truck work for shipping companies.

One aspect that will get a lot of attention is how quickly the trucks' batteries will degrade after heavy use that could reach 50,000 miles annually. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi highlighted the potential issue in a note to investors writing, "While battery degradation has largely ceased to be an investor controversy for Tesla's consumer vehicles, it may pose a more pertinent risk for the Tesla Semi."

Even if the numbers behind the Tesla Semi are promising for trucking companies that are hyper-focused on lowering costs, the automaker will have its work cut out winning orders. Four manufacturers dominate the Class 8 truck market, with Daimler's Freightliner division holding almost 40 percent of the market.

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