Elon Musk is turning into an electric truck delivery man

HAVEwith Elon Musk at the wheel, Tesla delivered its first electric truck on Thursday, in an attempt to make its mark on the nascent zero-emission truck market by promising to drive long distances without having to stop at the charging station.

The head of the manufacturer arrived at the controls of the vehicle and braked a few meters from an audience of guests for the handover of the keys to the food group PepsiCo at the Tesla factory in Nevada.

With its cabin with rounded lines for aerodynamics and the driver’s seat located in the middle, the truck was presented in 2017. But the launch of its large-scale production, originally planned for 2019, has been delayed.

“It’s amazing what has happened in five years […] but here we are, it’s real,” said Elon Musk at the start of his presentation.

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

Tesla’s truck was particularly anticipated because, if the group keeps its promises, “it will make a big difference,” notes Dave Mullaney, transportation specialist at sustainable development firm RMI.

Elon Musk repeated it Thursday: the loaded truck, with a total weight of nearly 37 tons, can go 500 miles (805 kilometers) without recharging, when the vehicles currently offered have a range of 250 to 300 miles (400 to 480 kilometers).

The return weight tare

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

The transition to electric vans that deliver in the city or over short distances has been in the works for some time.

If electric trucks can drive 800 kilometers without having to recharge, it opens up the niche for long-distance trips, with a return to the depot the same evening or over several days, if the driver can find a terminal where he takes a break.

Manufacturers and carriers are driven by regulations. In the United States, California passed a law to phase out trucks with thermal engines, since imitated by other states. The European Union will discuss new standards in the coming months.

Companies are also increasingly aware of being environmentally conscious in order to maintain their reputation. They “want to be on the right side of history”, notes Marie Chéron, from the European association Transport & Environment.

According to Tesla, large trucks make up 1% of vehicles in the US but produce 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another incentive for carriers facing a shortage of truck drivers, the latter seem to appreciate electric trucks, silent, no fuel smell, no big shocks, easier to drive.

Elon Musk also emphasized this point on Thursday by praising the appearance of the Semi: “If you want the truck that rips the most on the road, this is it. »

70% more expensive than diesel to buy

For the adoption of electric trucks to accelerate, it is necessary that the autonomy really corresponds to the promises and, ideally, that the batteries shrink, note several analysts interviewed by AFP.

The infrastructure must also be adapted with more charging points and an electrical network that is strong enough for, for example, ten trucks to be connected to a parking lot at the same time. The price will be decisive.

Currently, an electric truck still costs about 70% more to buy than a diesel truck, but costs less in terms of energy and maintenance, notes Dave Mullaney.

Tesla had indicated in 2017 that it would offer two versions, at $150,000 and $180,000, but has not since given any indication of price.

Elon Musk, who has also been busy since taking over Twitter, indicated in late October that he aimed to build 50,000 Semis by 2024.

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