The sheer number of industries Elon Musk is reinventing is mind boggling. Take personal transportation, for example. Now that Tesla's market cap surpasses iconic American car maker Ford's, you could say that war is won, even if a few battles are still under way. With SpaceX, he's fearlessly taming space transportation through reusable rockets. With the GigaFactory, he's reinvented manufacturing with the factory as the product. SolarCity's new solar roof fits right on the horizon for many of America's energy-conscious homes. And yesterday, Musk declared he's prepared to deliver on a promise made in his 2016 "master plan"--taking on commercial transportation.

Commercial transportation reinvented

"In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed," Musk wrote. "Heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport. Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate."

How much safer could Tesla's promised truck fleet be?

Musk is on the record as promising self-driving and other safety features from Tesla will create a 10x better safety experience that current manual driving. That would be a very good thing. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, roadway fatalities for truckers are up 9 percent from the previous year. Truck driver deaths are over one-quarter of the fatal annual occupational injuries in this country. In fact, truck driving is the most dangerous profession in the US. Over half of trucking fatalities involved the vehicle itself.

And how much cheaper?

The Federal Highway Authority benchmarks that every hour of commercial trucking delay costs a conservative $26.70 per hour. Most of that is fuel and driver pay--both things Tesla's driverless fleet would disrupt. Given the bottlenecks in our transportation system, the Administration estimates that traffic slow-downs cost truckers about $6.5 billion annually, just in the United States. Meanwhile, the need for trucking is growing. The American Trucking Association projects that by 2027, freight will grow 35%. As freight grows, so will the $6.5 billion estimated cost of delays.

So what are trucking industry leaders doing to prepare for these challenges? Well, a recent survey of 2,200 commercial trucking execs reports they believe that retaining drivers is their most crucial strategic initiative--more important than regulatory compliance and risk management. (It's hard not to draw a dotted line between this leadership survey and the highway administration's report on the increase in truck driver fatalities.)

Perhaps Tesla's vision of a safe, fun, driverless transportation fleet is coming at just the right time.

Published on: Apr 14, 2017
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