Tesla has declared that their semi-truck is going to be fully electric, able to run up to 500 miles between charges while hauling 80,000 pounds. The changes in the Tesla Semi indicate projected revolutions for the entire transport industry moving forward. The Tesla Semi offers something to the trucking industry that could drastically alter the entire freight moving sector.

The trucking industry has experienced major changes since it began roughly a century ago and has, despite the assumptions of many outsiders looking in, been one of the more technologically-advanced industries in our nation. Trucks themselves have witnessed huge changes in the past few decades while the freight industry generally has been reinvented and revamped multiple times over in that same time period.

The Tesla Semi could instigate the start of its shift toward self-driving electric vehicles. Even though the cost of shifting would be exorbitant, the industry would bear it simply because it holds the promise of reducing two of its main expenses – fuel and labor.

Presently, trucks run on diesel, which costs the industry roughly $152 billion annually. Electric vehicles as expected could reduce this to around a quarter of the cost. More optimistic estimates even put it at one-eighth or one-sixteenth of the cost. In addition, once truly automated self-driving trucks become common, thousands of drivers could lose their jobs. But the extent of the potential job losses still has to be determined.

According to experts, another factor that could alleviate the loss of truck driver jobs is the technology. It is still not at the level where people can extensively trust self-driving vehicles – and it may never be. It is worth remembering that most planes already have auto pilot functionality, and yet still have human pilots in the cockpit.

One very crucial factor that has raised concern is that a self-driving semi-truck depends on sensors to provide information to control and navigate the vehicle. These sensors, which are made from a combination of cameras and radar, are still vulnerable in city settings to being blinded by the sun or being unable to distinguish between large signs and cars on the road.

Furthermore, all of these factors will be less of a concern on highways, which is where self-driving trucks will likely come into common use first. But despite all these settings, it is recognized that these trucks will still be manned – at least for the foreseeable future. Therefore, what will likely happen is that a truck driver will handle the truck while it is within city limits, and then allow the autonomous truck to take over once it is on the highway.

The primary limitation to the wider adoption of self-driving electric trucks is their limited range. Yes, a good number of trucking companies see them as being impractical for long-haul trucking. The waiting time for their batteries to recharge is also a disadvantage since it would mean lost money for drivers who are paid a mileage rate. They assume that these trucks would be more viable on shorter routes where there are fewer roads and somewhere for them to recharge.

Changes and Advantages of the Tesla Semi

Here are Tesla’s key advantages and changes it has brought to the trucking industry.

  1. Safety

One thing about the Semi is that it will offer Enhanced Autopilot, which is the second generation of Tesla’s semiautonomous driving technology. This safety tech includes automatic braking, lane keeping, and lane departure warnings. According to reports, Human error is responsible for the majority of truck-related collisions.

Having semiautonomous safety features, which can alert drivers to unsafe situations pre-emptively, is expected to have a massive increase in safety. Coupled with the recent ELD mandate, the number of trucking collisions is expected to massively decline with partially autonomous trucks like the Tesla Semi.

  1. Autonomy

Next-generation vehicles are expected to feature autonomous capabilities. Even if the trucks themselves are not fully-autonomous due to limitations in regulations, next-gen trucks are more or less expected to offer advanced driver-assist software.

This plays right into Tesla’s strengths. The Tesla Semi is equipped with a dedicated “Convoy Mode” that allows multiple trucks to be led by a lead, crewed vehicle. Note that this feature may not be a full-blown full self-driving system per se, but it definitely makes transporting large amounts of goods easier.

Tesla is working towards Level 5 autonomy, which will let its vehicles to navigate without a driver. Full autonomy would proffer solutions to the decreasing number of drivers in the trucking industry. There aren’t that many people who are applying to be truck drivers today. The conditions truck drivers have undergone during the pandemic aren’t exactly encouraging people to apply either.

  1. Connectivity

The Tesla Semi has built-in connectivity. It simply means that the truck’s info and panels will integrate directly into the fleet management system. This will allow for easier, faster, updated routing and monitoring from a remote location.

Just like with electronic logging devices, the trucking industry is making a push towards digitizing records. Note that this can help drivers spot poor driving behaviors and potential shipment delays before they happen. This will streamline paperwork and operations while ensuring a safer, more efficient time on the road.

  1. Batteries

Tesla’s batteries are industry-leading, with auto experts such as Sandy Munro noting that they are the best in the field. Tesla’s battery technology is advanced enough that its flagship vehicles, the Model S sedan and Model X SUV, can draw out far more range than a rival vehicle—such as the Audi e-tron—from a battery pack, almost similar in size.

According to experts, there is little doubt that Tesla stands today as one of the world’s premier battery makers and the company will be bringing all this expertise into the Semi. Note that batteries could indeed make a difference for the all-electric long-hauler, as characteristics of its pack, such as cell density, will likely have a direct impact on the Semi’s capabilities and price.

5. Driver Location

The biggest difference between the Tesla Semi and other Class 8 trucks is the location of the steering wheel and driver. Although the driver is usually on the left-hand side like traditional cars (right-hand side in the UK), the steering wheel in the Semi is in the center of the cab.

There will be touch screen panels on both sides of the driver. The panels are the same used in the Tesla Model 3. This will make truck drivers more like pilots than drivers, and they will be able to control their “autopilot” features, making cars more self-driving—and drivers will be more supervisory.

Furthermore, the Semi doesn’t have a large diesel-powered engine. This means that the front cab is more spacious than the traditional Class 8. The driver can also be placed in closer proximity to the front of the truck, reducing the concerns of visibility directly in front of the truck’s high front end.

  1. Charging Network

Ideally, Tesla’s Supercharger Network may be second to none, and the planned Megacharger System for the Semi will likely follow the same ramp. Tesla’s proprietary charging system offers fast and rapid charging services that are affordable for vehicle owners.

The price of charging could be quite valuable for the Semi, since fleet owners will most definitely prefer to recharge their vehicles at the lowest cost possible. Fast-charging technologies for the Semi were hinted by Elon Musk during the vehicle’s unveiling. The Tesla CEO teased short, 30-minute charging sessions for the Class 8 truck, which would add about 400 miles of range.

  1. Manufacturing Scale

Although Tesla is a young company, it boasts of industry experience in mass producing electric vehicles. With the Model 3 and Model Y, Tesla is striving to outpace the mass-market, which requires a production rate that matches the veterans in the auto market.

Note that this experience in mass producing electric vehicles will likely be utilized by Tesla for the Semi, as hinted at by the all-electric truck’s Model 3 components. The vehicle, for instance, features four Model 3-derived motors. Its door handles and twin infotainment displays are also derived from the Model 3. This will likely allow Tesla to ramp the Semi’s production in a rapid manner since it will be dealing with parts that have already been in use for years.

  1. Tesla’s Business Model

Without doubt, one of Tesla’s biggest strengths is its business model, which takes away the middle man and allows customers to directly acquire their electric vehicles from the company itself. Note that this would likely be invaluable for buyers of the Semi, particularly as the vehicle will see a lot of use and abuse on the road.

In addition, by having a straight line to Tesla, owners of the Semi will be able to address their concerns to the electric car maker directly. The pricing on the vehicles’ parts during their infrequent maintenance will also be fair, as everything will be sourced from Tesla.

Conclusion

The Tesla Semi has the potential to make serious waves and dominate the trucking industry after the dust settles from the global pandemic. Within the next 15 years, autonomous driving is projected to double productivity rates and cut travel times in half. These trucks will help reduce the supply chain lead time and improve customer service while improving the quality of life for trucking employees.

In the future, the job description for truck drivers as we know it today would likely change. A driver would likely require a different set of skills than what they are required to have now, or they would be working for less pay and under poorer conditions.

Joy Nwokoro