Four things Tesla needs to reveal when it launches the semi truck
Tesla Inc. is set to unveil its electric semi truck on Thursday, after twice delaying the launch of its latest vehicle.
The Silicon Valley car maker and solar-power installer has kept the details of the truck under wraps, and is scheduled to webcast the launch from its design studio in the Los Angeles area at 8 p.m. Pacific time.
Here are the key elements that Wall Street will want Tesla TSLA, +0.87% to address:
Range is a crucial aspect of Thursday’s unveiling, and Wall Street analysts are betting on anything from a couple of hundred miles to around 450 miles on a single battery charge.
While there’s no one ideal span when it comes to trucking, a range on the lower end of the spectrum will limit the truck’s usefulness.
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Long-haul truck drivers routinely drive up to about 600 miles a day, bumping against federal regulations that say that they can’t drive more than 11 hours on a single shift. Drivers making local, fixed-route delivery rounds, drive around 200 miles a day.
The cost of the truck will hinge heavily on battery packs and the truck’s range.
Analysts at Bernstein said they expect the Tesla truck to be a Class 8 semi truck with 300 miles to 450 miles of range, available around mid-2019.
Currently available charging stations across the U.S. are unlikely to accommodate a semi, said Ray Murray, vice president of research at the American Transportation Research Institute.
How, and how often, the truck will charge will again depend on how a Tesla truck would be used — if it’s a medium-duty truck used for local deliveries, charging overnight might not be an inconvenience.
For a truck used in regional deliveries, however, a return-to-base type of charging might not be an option.
Tesla is likely to tout the truck’s advanced driver-assistance systems, and Wall Street is betting on “platooning,” in which trucks equipped with ADAS autonomously or nearly autonomously follow a leading truck driven by a human.
But that’s an issue that goes beyond electric trucks, Murray said. The big benefit of platooning is fuel efficiency, “and we don’t know what that means for electric trucks,” he said.
The industry is likely many years away from a truly autonomous truck, and even then the role of a driver may get a makeover but wouldn’t entirely disappear, he said.
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A “driverless” truck would still need a human to comply with government regulations, navigate off-the-freeway routes, or even to fill paperwork and protect the cargo.
Innovations toward more autonomous driving could, however, help the industry with its perennial recruiting efforts, Murray said.
For millennials, a generation that usually enjoys being connected at all times and makes heavy use of social media, long-haul truck driving is a particularly unappealing profession, he said.
A semi autonomous truck could leave some time for those social interactions, and the technology innovations could increase the profession’s cachet among millennials.
The industry is looking at an avalanche of baby-boomer retirees that will most likely exacerbate the shortage of truck drivers.The average age of a truck driver is 47 to 48 years old, Murray said.
Cost of operation
Fuel, usually diesel, accounts for a big chunk of trucking costs. Diesel prices are rising, but are still coming from a low base.
“The whole industry is still in a wait-and-see mode” regarding costs and electric trucks, Murray said. Electric trucks may be easier and cheaper to maintain, but might not make sense in all states. The industry might need three to five years of electric-truck operation “to know where they fit.”
The industry is currently struggling with a shortage of qualified mechanics for diesel engines, so there is reason to fear a similar shortage of electric-truck technicians.
Tesla is not without competition. Daimler AG DAI, -0.56% and other truck makers have announced electric trucks. “All the major players are at least in the (research and development) phase,” Murray said.
Tesla shares have gained 45% this year, compared with gains around 15% for the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.41% and 18% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.49% .
That outperformance disappears on a three-month view, however, with the stock down 15%, compared with the S&P’s 4.3% gain and the Dow’s 6% gain.