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Tesla Semi: Here’s Why Only Idiots Hate It

Introduction

Have you ever walked through a supermarket and been amazed by the variety of colorful fruits, seafood, meats, and a full range of PepsiCo brand grain-based snack foods and beverage options, and asked yourself, how did this all get here? 

The answer is by truck. Truck drivers are the unsung heroes of our economy that that deliver everything we need. It’s about time an innovative company gave our nations truckers a smarter, safer, and cleaner alternative to today’s antiquated rumbling highway chariots.

Let’s temporarily ignore the fact that Tesla’s ultimate goal is to entirely remove human drivers from operation, because fully autonomous driverless transportation is a ways off, and by the time we get there, the abundance created by AI automation will free our nations truckers to pursue more creative career paths like finger painting, or becoming a YouTuber.

Tesla has undoubtably sparked the beginning of the world’s transition towards electric cars, but the electric trucking industry is still in its infancy.

While increased efficiency, lower cost, and better performance are nice perks for early adopters of electric passenger vehicles, in the trucking industry,  these improvements are a matter of life or death, or more appropriately, profitability or bankruptcy. In the coming years, transportation companies must adapt to new technology, or risk getting left behind in a cloud of smoky diesel fumes.

Introductory Facts

Commercial interests aside, the transportation sector contributes to a whopping 28% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and class 8 heavy-duty trucks account for 17% of the total fuel consumed by highway vehicles, despite comprising only 1% of vehicle’s on the road. The electrification of medium and heavy duty trucks is an important and oft overlooked component of Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

The Tesla semi pays for itself in just two years by providing $200,000 in fuel savings, and from day one costs just $1.26 per mile to operate, compared to $1.51 of a comparable diesel truck. Like other electric vehicles, it will require less maintenance, because there are less moving parts.

In terms of performance, the electric big rig is capable of an incredibly swift acceleration from 0 to 60 MPH in only 5 seconds! Or in 20 seconds when the Semi Truck is fully loaded to it’s 80,000 lb capacity. An average diesel semi needs 15 seconds to go from 0 to 60 when empty, and a full minute when carrying a similar load!

The Tesla Semi’s incredible performance is due in part to its streamlined aerodynamic design. The semi has a drag coefficient of 0.36, which is incredibly low when compared to the 0.65 of a standard truck, but shockingly, it even has a lower drag coefficient than a Bugatti Chiron.

With specs like that, it makes me wonder who’s going to be the first creator to realize they should buy a Tesla semi instead of the Cybertruck to make the best content. I had my heart set on a trimotor cybertruck, but maybe the semi will provide a better ROI. I’m serious about this btw, which one do you think I should get? Let me know in the comments, and subscribe so you can hold me to it in a few years.

A truck this size is going to need one gargantuan battery module, but it might not be as simple as just scaling up the pack.

Battery

Tesla says the semi will consume less than 2 kwh of energy per mile and have a 500 mile range. Performing some highly advanced mathematics,  we can ascertain we’re looking at a roughly 1,000 kwh battery pack. That’s 1 whole megawatt if your paying attention, 10 Times the size of the pack currently used in the Model S. 

If you scaled up Tesla’s current 2170 battery modules, you’d be looking at a battery weight of over 13,000 pounds.  A colossal figure that takes up too much of the Semi’s gross vehicle weight rating to make sense.

The maximum weight for a class 8 truck is 80,000 pounds including both the vehicle weight, and the payload. So basically, the lighter the battery, the more cargo you can carry, and the more money you can make. 

It’s possible that the Semi is already making use of the new and improved tabless 4680 battery cells that were presented on Tesla’s battery day. Elon said on twitter that they’ve already been using the jumbo cells in prototype vehicles for several months, and in one slide he showed a Semi and Cybertruck as examples for high nickel cathode cells in heavy vehicles.

The new 4680 cells expect to achieve a 5 times increase in energy storage, a 16% increase in range, and a 6 time increase in power. This reduction in weight could be an important component in making the semi’s high power requirements more feasible.

We also know that the Tesla Semi has a highly unusual 10 pin charging configuration.

Elon said that the new Tesla megacharger will be capable of charging the semi with 400 miles of range in just half an hour. Charging at those rates would require Tesla’s megacharger to be at least 6 times more powerful than current v3 supercharger stations. Those massive power requirements have led some experts to believe that the Semi does not in fact have one giant battery pack, but 4 separate packs that charge simultaneously. The reason being such a high powered charger would max out physical limitations of battery charging and potentially create arcing in the battery, or even burn the charger contacts. This theory might help explain the 10 pin charging port.

This ludicrous lorry is not just powerful, it’s smart, perhaps the most technologically advanced vehicle ever built by Tesla Motors. Let’s find out why.

Autopilot

Like all new Tesla cars, the semi will come equipped with advanced hardware and software capable of providing enhanced autopilot features today, and full self-driving capabilities in the future. With semi-autonomous capabilities, the tractor will also feature new active safety controls tailored specifically for the heavy-duty truck form factor. 

But that’s not all, the Semi features some very forward thinking software, that could be a game changer. 

The Tesla Semi will be capable of “platooning” 

There’s a technique in Bicycle racing called drafting, where a group of cyclists will ride in a close line behind each other, which can reduce wind resistance by up to 27% and allow the bikers to expend less energy.

When you do it in a truck, it’s called “platooning” and because the Tesla Semi’s are tethered together digitally, you don’t have to worry about a rear end collision if the guy in front suddenly hits the brakes.

The benefits of platooning include greater fuel economy due to reduced air resistance, reduced traffic, and fewer accidents.

As Tesla Semi trucks have the ability to wirelessly communicate with each other, platooning comes as a progressive development for Tesla’s autopilot AI technology, and according to reports cited by Morgan Stanley Research, Tesla has already applied to test a Level 4 autonomous platoon across state lines.

A platooning group of trucks can potentially even work like a train, with a manned lead vehicle doing the driving, and a chain of autonomous unmanned trucks following in tow.

Christian Bergstrand, program manager for Scania, one of Europes largest manufactures of commercial vehicles, has echoed Tesla’s sentiment, stating that

“We strongly believe platooning will be the use case for completely autonomous vehicles down the road”

What kind of massive motors will it take to power an advanced truck like this? You might be surprised. 

It Uses The Same Electric Motors Found on the Model 3

The Tesla semi will use four of the same permanent magnet electric motors that power the best selling Tesla Model 3, so each wheel on the rear drive axle will have its own independent motor. Each Tesla Model 3 motor is rated at 271 horsepower, which would bring the total output to about 1,084 horsepower, or 808 kw for the electrically inclined.

Designed for redundancy, Elon Musk said, “You can lose two of the four motors, and the truck will still keep going. In fact, even if you have only two of the four motors active it will still beat a diesel truck”’

The Tesla semi has one gear and no transmission, ideal for taking advantage of the tremendous torque of the electric motors. The independently controlled motors are capable of dynamic adjustment too, improving safety and handling . At the unveiling event, Elon said, “It’s smooth. It’s just like driving a Tesla. It’s though you’re driving a Model S, a Model X, or Model 3, it’s just big.”

Considering that the model 3 drive system has been already been designed and validated for over 1 million miles, the Semi’s one million mile warranty is looking more and more sensible.

As a matter of fact Elon said, “Most of that semi is actually made out of Model 3 parts”

A move that will maximize production efficiency and lower costs.

An added benefit of the electric motors is regenerative braking, this way the truck can recapture some momentum when fully loaded to its capacity of 80,000 lbs. Regenerative braking doesn’t just extend range, it can reduce wear on the brake calipers so effectively the brake pads basically last forever.

One less thing for the drivers to worry about, speaking of, truck drivers are in for a high tech treat when it comes to the cabin of the Semi.

Driver Experience

The driver has a central position in the cabin, atypical for a truck and very much like a race car, and will be surrounded by two 15 inch touchscreen displays mounted on either side that will provide access to all kinds of functions such as: navigation, blind-spot monitoring, telematics, maintenance and fleet management systems. 

Eliminating the bulky diesel engine that normally takes up cabin space, the semi cab is roomy, and has a 6’6” ceiling height to accommodate vertically gifted drivers. 

It appears some truckers have already gotten an early taste of the driving experience, because the Semi has been used under some unusual circumstances.

A Semi prototype was used to deliver Tesla cars

During a recent delivery crunch caused by high demand and logistical issues exacerbated by the pandemic, Tesla was actually spotted using a Semi prototype to transport Model Y’s near their Fremont factory.  CEO Elon Musk apologized to customers for delayed delivery, and it appears he tapped all of the companies resources to get customers their cars on time.

The Palo Alto automaker was always planning on being their own first customers, and hopes to use their in house eTruck to reduce transportation costs and lower emissions of their logistical operations. 

Jerome Guillen (GI-YEN), Tesla’s president of automotive and the head of the Semi program said,

 “We do have a few trucks that keep driving around and that can deliver cars. But we’re going to accelerate that. I want to be clear that the first few units, we will use ourselves, Tesla, to carry our own freight, probably mostly between Fremont and Reno, which is a fantastic test route. We’re going to prove that we have very good reliability. So far, the early units do have it, but we’ll do that at a larger scale.”

By “dogfooding” the Semi, a practice where an organization tests their own products in the real world, Tesla is conducting research and development, while simultaneously making progress towards their goal of operating global Tesla manufacturing, vehicle charging, and other operations using 100% renewable energy. 

Wait until you find out what companies are already onboard

A bunch of companies have already ordered it

The Tesla Semi Truck is receiving a lot of corporate interest. Delivery juggernaut UPS placed an order of 125 trucks to move your packages,  Pepsi’s in for 100 to smuggle carbonated sugar water across state lines, and the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch has reserved 40 Semis to get you buzzed in a more eco-friendly manner.  Even Wal-Mart joined the platoon and pre-ordered 130 semis.

Notably, Amazon is conspicuously absent from the preorder list. It may have something to do with the fact that Amazon recently invested $700 million dollars in competing EV manufacturer Rivian, and ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans that are expected to hit public roads by 2021.

The competition is on, which was Elon’s master plan all along.

Many more companies are expected to follow suit. According to global energy analysis firm Woods Mackenzie, there are forecasted to be 52,000 new electric trucks on US roads by 2025, up from just 2,000 currently.  They say that, “Compared to passenger electric vehicle and electric bus penetration levels, the electric truck market is still in its infancy.” Electrification provides operators with many financial and environmental benefits on its own due to lower fuel and maintenance costs and zero tailpipe emissions. Support from policymakers and utilities is just getting off the ground, and fleet operators willing to test this new technology can take advantage of incentive and pilot programs to advance their own electrification goals.”

As is customary of Tesla products, the drivers will be in good hands.

It is the Safest Truck Ever

Coming from the company that produces the world’s safest vehicles as demonstrated by NHTSA testing, the Tesla Semi Truck is being touted as the safest truck ever built. Features such as enhanced autopilot can help avoid collisions when it detects obstacles, and a unique centered driver position provides maximum visibility and control over vehicle handling. 

With a massive battery pack positioned on the trucks undercarriage, the vehicle will have a uniquely low center of gravity that offers rollover protection, exactly like in the case of the Model X, the only SUV in the world that couldn’t be tipped in NHTSA rollover testing. Of course the massive battery pack will have advanced shielding to prevent fire or explosion in the event of a crash. 

What’s one of the worst types of crashes you can have in a truck? The semi’s got you covered, here’s why:

Regarding the safety benefits of the trucks advanced drivetrain, Elon Musk said “the truck will automatically stop jackknifing because it has independent motors on each wheel and it will dynamically adjust the torque on each wheel so that jackknifing is impossible. Your worst nightmare is gone with this truck.”

Musk joked that the windshield on the semi was thermonuclear explosion proof. While this might be a slight..overestimation, as Elon tends to do, the semi will include Tesla’s infamous armor glass. A minor detail, but a very important feature for the trucking industry where the large surface area of a trucks windshield acts a target for flying road debris. In this side by side comparison, the armor glass of a tesla semi resisted the impact from a metallic tow hitch far better than standard autoglass, a vital feature to protect our nations valuable truckers.

The improved resiliency also provides more uptime and a significant operational advantage, as truck windshields break on average once per year, and by law trucks are not allowed to operate until it gets fixed.

Solar 

Just to throw it out there, the large flat surface of a trailer seems like it would make an ideal platform for harvesting solar energy, but does it make sense?

In a previous video we evaluated the practicality of putting solar panels on cars and found that the small surface area of a cars roof was one of the limiting factors in their feasibility.

We took a Tesla Model S, almost 5 m long and 2 m wide, and put a hypothetical array of solar cells covering the whole plan-view rectangular area of 10 square meters. We found that in direct sunlight, it could charge its battery with at best 20% of the 10 kilowatts of solar energy hitting it, about 2 kW.

With full sun for about 5 hours per day, that’s 10kWh of battery charge per day, so our giant imaginary rectangular solar panel could charge up to 10% of the cars 100 kwh battery per day. 

Scaling this up to a semi trailer, 16.2 meters long 2.6 meters wide, you’ll find that the 42.12 square meter roof could potentially capture about 42.12 kWh of charge per day, only 4.2% of the Tesla Semi estimated 1 MW battery.  

Layering this on top of our already roughly calculated capacity and range estimates, we find that the extra power only translates to about 21 miles of additional range per day.

Not the most promising results, but perhaps it could be useful supplement to the semi’s onboard systems, that is if the extra weight and drag of a roof mounted solar panel system doesn’t counteract any benefit.

American Made

Everything is bigger in Texas, so it only makes sense for Tesla’s largest vehicle yet to built in the lonestar state.

During a conference call in 2020, Elon Musk said the Tesla is going to be produced at the new terafactory in Austin, Texas. He said “We’re going to be doing a major factory there. And it’s also where we will be doing Cybertruck there, the Tesla semi program, and we will be doing Model 3 and Y for the eastern half of North America.”

Conclusion

The semi might just be the most important Tesla yet. If the final production version lives up to Elon’s claims that it’s the safest, most energy efficient, most comfortable truck ever, this EV has the potential to revolutionize the global trucking industry.