Tesla is getting closer to changing the trucking game.
The company has been hyping its battery-operated big rig trucks since at least April, when CEO Elon Musk showed off a teaser image (essentially, just a silhouette) of the Tesla Semi at a TED Conference in Vancouver.
The trucks, for instance, will be able to travel 200 to 300 miles on a single charge--impressive considering that even the most capable electric sedans are smack in the middle of that range.
Many big-rig trucks can travel 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel, so the Tesla trucks would fall well short of that. But it's hard to believe most truckers wouldn't need a break every 200 to 300 miles or so anyway. That range will put the Semi in the low end of the "long-haul" trucking category, which could set it up to steal market share from regional trucking companies. About 30 percent of U.S. trucking trips are between 100 and 200 miles, according to Reuters.
Electric semis could be attractive to fleet managers because of their abilities to lower fuel costs. While there's no word yet on how the price of the Tesla Semi might compare with that of a traditional truck, it's likely the Tesla will be more expensive, then pay for itself over time due to fuel savings. Still, it might be quite the initial investment: The average diesel cab runs about $120,000, and experts who spoke to Reuters estimated that a battery capable of powering a big rig beyond 200 miles could cost even more than that by itself.
The trucks might also be attractive because of their lack of a carbon footprint. Battery-powered semis would be far more environmentally friendly, which could also give trucking companies a leg up in the world of public relations should they decide to go electric.
As it revealed earlier this month, Tesla is currently developing self-driving technology for the trucks. The company is already equipping all of its new cars with the hardware necessary for fully autonomous driving, and it has said it hopes the software is ready sometime this year. Trucks that don't need drivers would also be more cost efficient for trucking companies, though that could displace more than 1 million workers in the U.S. alone.
Musk's company isn't alone in its electric truck ambitions. Daimler is starting to manufacture a battery-operated delivery truck this year. Chanje, a manufacturer that has a partnership with trucking company Ryder, is working on an electric semi of its own. Both of those are projected to have ranges of about 100 miles.