At an event in California tonight, cool dad and future Galactic President Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s latest vehicle. Instead of building another electric car for people with too much money to buy a Prius, Tesla has moved on to making semi trucks for environmentally sensitive logistics companies.

The new Tesla Semi has some impressive specs, according to Musk: 500 mile range on a charge, 0-60 of 5 seconds, cheaper per-mile cost than a diesel, and a million-mile guarantee.

How fast is this thing?

Faster than any semi truck you’ve seen before. Musk says that it’ll do 0-60 miles per hour in five seconds, and it’ll do the same thing in 20 seconds while pulling a 80,000 pound load. That might sound completely irrelevant for something that’s meant to pull loads on highways, but a disproportionate amount of the US’s trucking is done to deliver loads the last 100 miles. If most of a company’s business is done pulling loads from a port into a big city, the low-end torque of Tesla’s semi truck could save time and stress getting loads delivered.

Cost is also a big deal for logistics companies, and the wallet is where Musk is hoping the Tesla Semi will really win. Musk says the cost is 20 percent less than a diesel truck on a per-mile basis; if you run a fleet of these things where the biggest per-mile cost is fuel, that’s a massive saving.

OK cool, but does it drive itself?

Note quite. The Tesla Semi does have Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot system, which means it’s got the best driver-assist systems that you’ll see in any production vehicle on the road. It has emergency automatic braking, lane detection, and lane departure warnings. Musk claims that he can drive the truck himself, and has has “no idea how to drive a semi.” I believe that.

More than the automatic systems, the Tesla Semi packs in a bunch of tech that should help the driver to be safe. The driver is positioned in the middle, which should help cut down on blind spots on both sides. There’s also screens on both side of the driver that show blind spot sensors, which helps with the hardest part of driving a semi. There’s also little things, like a computer than can help control each wheel to prevent jackknifing.

I like trucks. When can I buy one?

Musk says that production will start in 2019. Based on Tesla’s production record with the recent Model 3, that probably means that widespread delivery might start in 2020, if we’re lucky. By that point, Tesla won’t be the only company in the electric car market, or the only company making trucks with semi-autonomous driving features. But by announcing early, Tesla and Musk are clearly hoping that they can secure early orders and set the trend.

It’s worked in the past with the Model 3, Tesla’s “affordable” $35,000 car that secured nearly half a million orders. Whether Musk can pull the same trick with shipping fleet managers remains to be seen, but tonight makes clear that Tesla is serious about more than just fancy electric transportation for the masses.

View Comments