Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

 In U.S.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk unveiled a new electric semi-truck that can apparently withstand a nuclear explosion and go from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds. (Tesla)

Tesla finally took the wraps off its long-anticipated electric semi-truck late Thursday, a truck that Elon Musk said would blow people’s minds into an “alternate dimension.”

The question now, analysts say, is whether Elon Musk’s ambition to transform the commercial trucking industry is feasible.

After acknowledging his company’s struggles to produce the Tesla 3, its first mass-market electric sedan, and dealing with allegations of unfair workplace conditions, Musk was back to doing the one thing he does better than perhaps anyone else in Silicon Valley: making big, dreamy, promotion-filled promises that have a way of bringing his dynamic vision of the future to life.

“What does it feel like to drive this truck?” Musk asked the audience, shortly after his latest creations rolled onto the stage. “It’s amazing! It’s smooth, just like driving a Tesla.”

“It’s unlike any truck that you’ve ever driven,” he added, noting that Tesla’s big rig puts the driver at the center of the vehicle like a race car, but surrounded with touchscreen displays like those found in the Model 3. “I can drive this thing and I have no idea how to drive a semi.”

Musk also repeatedly noted that his company’s trucks produce zero emissions.

Range anxiety has always been a key concern for anyone who is weighing the purchase of an electric vehicle. Musk sought to reassure potential buyers that the company’s big rigs can match — and surpass — the performance of a diesel engine, which he referred to as “economic suicide.”

Musk did not reveal the truck’s exact price, but argued that a diesel truck would be 20 cents more expensive per mile than Tesla’s electric counterpart, which will be available for purchase in 2019.

A fully loaded Tesla truck moving 60 mph can travel 500 miles on a single battery charge, Musk said. The vast majority of truck routes are less than 250 miles, he said. The truck includes four independent motors, Musk said, and has no gears or transmission, meaning that it will require much less maintenance. He guaranteed the truck will not break down for 1 million miles.

Every truck “has Autopilot as a standard” which Musk claimed will help with safety.

The trucking industry is on the verge of an electric revolution, analysts say, one driven by a desire for greater safety, lower fuel costs and cleaner energy. Freight movement – a category that includes trucks, trains, ships, and planes that carry goods – accounts for 16 percent of all corporate greenhouse gas emissions, which constitutes an enormous carbon footprint, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. On the issue of safety, more than 4,000 people were killed and another 116,000 injured in accidents involving large trucks in 2015, the most recent year statistics were available, according to National Highway Traffic safety Administration.

Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer of Toronto-based Fleet Complete, which tracks truck movement, told Reuters that about 30 percent of U.S. trucking trips are regional, between 100 to 200 miles. Those regional trips present a unique niche for Tesla if transportation firms conclude that the company can offer them a way to reduce operating costs and emissions.

Musk also said that it won’t take long for the trucks to charge.

“While you’re unloading your cargo, you can charge,” he said, arguing that drivers will need to take a 30-minute break after six or seven hours of driving, giving them a chance to charge the truck. “By the time you’re done with your break, the truck will be ready to go. You will not be waiting for your truck.”

Within hours of the unveiling, Wal-Mart – the world’s largest retailer with a fleet of about 6,000 trucks – announced that the company has ordered five Tesla units in Walmart U.S. and 10 units in Walmart Canada.

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