Tesla Semi to haul new scrip or incomplete Model 3s?

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Elon Musk is rallying the call on his new truck which he is presenting this evening, albeit delayed from the initial Oct 26 launch.  He tweeted, “Tesla Semi Truck unveil to be webcast live on Thursday at 8pm! This will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension. Just need to find my portal gun …”  If Elon Musk said that Tesla was superseding lead balloons with Li-ion his devout followers would fall for it as a logical progression with cumulus and nimbus charging stations providing endless power top ups. He is the ultimate salesman. One can only imagine the Tesla Semi will haul (in reality) incompleted Model 3s to double up on the promo!

It is hard not to see it as a distraction to tee up the next capital raising by revving up the share price to minimise dilution. Of course we must give full credit to Musk for his ability to rev up excitement among his faithful followers. He can do no wrong in their eyes. Spend 5 minutes on a Tesla owners forum and they are all gushing at their purchase and quick to virtue signal even when seeking help for trouble shooting whether it be a wayward navigation system or quality defects. They are followers of the Tesla cult and see their leader cando no wrong.

Still the truck is fraught with risks as we wrote at the end of last month. First, truck regulations are extremely tough. Even in America, crossing state lines has legal ramifications. While there are overall weight restrictions, there are also weight restrictions over each axle (defer to the DoT’s schematic below). So even if Musk talks of driverless vehicles (a USP for sure), a battery laden truck will likely be heavier than its diesel cousin. Higher rig weight means the less that can be hauled. Think of the Tesla 100D which weighs in at 2,250kg some 22% heavier than a fully loaded M550ix BMW.

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Also truck haulage companies are hugely conservative. Risking the switch to EV trucks could put them out of business. If it takes 30 minutes to “fast charge” a Tesla car how long will it take to charge a stack likely to be at least 10 times larger (300 minutes?) in mass if it’s to have any chance of hauling 35 tonnes any sensible distance.

For the 2018 model series of the major Class 8 truck makers, most have achieved an extra 8% fuel economy gains for on highway performance to around 5.5mpg. Tyre pressure monitoring and new slipstreaming bodies also assist in the fuel savings. With a 150 gallon tank option, a driver can in theory do 1,300km. Battery-powered semi-tractors may be useful in low-speed, short-haul duty cycles, but long-haul makes little sense because of the batteries bulk, weight and expense.

The battery pack in a Tesla Model S passenger car weighs in at around 600kg. The diesel engine in a Freightliner Cascade Class-8 truck weighs around 1.2 tonnes. So if we assume that the basic Tesla Semi package (ex powertrain), is more or less the same as the Cascade will two sets of Tesla 85D battery packs suffice to give similar range? As we mentioned earlier, in order to give a similar 400km range in a truck having to haul 30+ tonnes it is easy to imagine battery packs being at least 10x the amount needed for an 85D car. So 6 tonnes of batteries replacing a 1.5 tonne engine transmission combination. That would mean 4.5 tonnes less carrying capacity for a start and even then can it be properly distributed over the axles to meet road regulations? Like the chap above, the average truckie probably cares about the environment as much as his waistline.

Tonight’s truck is only having to move around 10 miles to its event. I’m sure the list of its capabilities will be an envious list “on paper” of its potential. Sadly to CM it looks like a distraction for its struggling Model 3 production woes by selling a future that has many questions about commerciality. Cars are personal modes of transport. Trucks are a business. Trucking companies are hugely conservative and won’t risk replacing an entire fleet until it’s completed rigorous field tests. Yes Class 8 truck sales may have nearly tripled in the last month to over 35,000 units but the series is highly volatile. In the auto world Tesla is playing in a local pond of 17mn vehicles. In trucks that is more a 250-400,000 market. Unless Tesla can promise huge market share gains in a field it has little or no experience  (even though his Tesla Semi Guy was a former Freightliner Cascade head developer) in reaching any economies of scale and reaching out to 1000s of haulage companies will be a stretch.

However spectacular the Tesla Semi lunch will be expect the share price to be pumped on the news don’t be surprised if an equity capital raising is towed behind it. Remember that farside cartoon of Ralph Harrison, king of salespeople, standing on a boat waving to eskimos that he’s just sold refrigerators to? That is Musk. A magician who runs on the smell of an oily rag. Looking forward to seeing if the fanfare proves right.

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