Elon Musk might be taking the biggest electric vehicle gamble yet. Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) is planning to unveil an electric semi-tractor in September and a pickup within two years, Wired reported.
“Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September,” Musk tweeted on April 13. “Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.”
Strangely Enough an Electric Big Rig Makes Sense
An electric big-rig makes a lot of sense because such a vehicle would be able to haul a huge amount of battery power, Wired’s Jack Stewart noted. Electrics might be a hard sell to trucking companies because the weight and size of the lithium battery limit the amount of cargo they can haul. A trucking company executive would view a 1,000 pound lithium battery as 1,000 pounds of paying cargo he cannot move.
An even greater problem would be keeping the battery charged and recharged. It would require a larger Supercharger or electric truck stop.
An interesting advantage electric semis would have is that solar panels might be placed on the roof of the trailer. That would enable a rig to generate some of its own power as it cruised down the highway. Musk might be planning to adapt the solar roof tile technology from his SolarCity subsidiary for this purpose.
Another advantage Tesla has is that can adapt its self-driving vehicle technology to semi-trucks fairly easily. Both Daimler (OTC: DDAIY) and Uber subsidiary Otto Motors have demonstrated autonomous big rigs. Otto’s even delivered a load of Budweiser beer for Anheuser Busch in October.
An added selling point to electric semis is that they might have a lot more power than diesels. That would make such vehicles attractive to companies that hauled large loads such as heavy equipment.
Is There a Market for Electric Big-Rigs?
The potential market for electric big rigs might be bigger than you think because of the growing movement to get rid of diesel.
Four of the world’s largest cities; Mexico City, Madrid, Paris and Athens, are planning to ban diesel cars from their centers to reduce pollution, The Guardian reported. Pollution from diesel vehicles has become a serious problem in some countries, and there is growing political pressure to get rid of diesel. The diesel scandal at Volkswagen (OTC: VLKAY) is driving this movement by discrediting the technology.
Once diesel cars are banned semis and delivery trucks will be next. That means a potentially large market for Tesla’s electric trucks. One big selling point Tesla will have is that its trucks will have lower fuel costs because of the low cost of electricity.
There will be some serious logistical problems here, including where will the electricity come from? Replacing dirty diesels with electricity from coal does not sound like a good means of reducing pollution.
This might mean an added market for Tesla’s solar panels and PowerPak battery storage units. If Musk can get every large warehouse and garage to install solar panels to power trucks he’ll have another source of revenue.
Tesla’s Design and Manufacturing capabilities
If Musk can really build an electric big rig he’ll demonstrate that Tesla has some amazing design and manufacturing capabilities. Creating such a machine and getting it running will be an amazing feat.
Another interesting question we have to ask is where will the electric semi be built? Tesla certainly does not have the capacity to build it at its factory in Freemont, California. A possible location for semi manufacturing would be the Gigafactory in Storey County, Nevada, there’s certainly enough room there.
Tesla might also be working with a partner on this product; perhaps Daimler which owns Freightliner. Another probable partner is PACCAR (NASDAQ: PCAR); the former Pacific Car and Foundry Company, the parent of Kenworth and Peterbilt. Tesla will need a partner if it wants to get into the truck business.
Getting PACCAR to manufacture electric trucks would be a smart move for Tesla because it would increase the demand for batteries and components from the Gigafactory. This might explain why Musk is talking about building another Gigafactory in the Tristate border area of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. PACCAR manufactures Kenworths in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Model P Pickup Planned
A Tesla pickup called the Model P is also in the works, Tech Crunch reported. No date is planned but a sleek model of the truck that looks like some of the Ford El Ranchero “utility coups” of the 1960s and 1970s is circulating online. The El Ranchero was basically a station wagon with an uncovered bed instead of a covered back.
Few details of Model P are available but marketing a pickup would be a smart move for Tesla. America’s bestselling vehicle; the Ford F-150, is a pickup truck.
A problem that Musk would face is marketing the Model P to the kind of working class people most likely to drive pickup trucks. One selling point he would have is power, being electric would enable Tesla to offer the most powerful pickup on the market. Another is savings for commercial customers that would be interested in swapping gasoline or diesel for cheaper electricity.
The truck is called the Model P because the name Model T was taken; ironically enough by Ford (NYSE: F), Tesla’s artwork notes. Strangely enough Ford is shaping up to be Tesla’s biggest American rival with plans to spend $4.5 billion to bring 13 electrics to market by 2020. Musk’s announcement will surely inspire an electric F-150.
That is not deterring Musk he has plans for several additional models including a smaller SUV called the Model Y, the Model 3 sedan due in July, and the Model X SUV. There are plans for vans and for a new convertible version of the Roadster sports car. It looks as if Musk is serious about launching a major car company.