The unveiling of Tesla’s electric-powered semi-truck comes at a time when electric and self-driving cars are being posited as solutions to everything from global warming to road accidents and traffic congestion. Corporate attempts to partake in their share of containing climate change and redefining the future of mobility means that heavyweights like Daimler, Bosch, BYD, and Volvo are racing to design and produce trucks that promise lower emissions and higher efficiency. At the core of this effort is San Francisco-based automobile maker, energy storage company and solar panel manufacturer Tesla.
The company’s newest addition to its list of technological contributions is the new semi-truck, also known simply as “Semi,” which it unveiled last Thursday. The electric-motored truck promises less emissions, more value to the mile and a more secure vehicle. With an energy pack that can haul up to 80,000 pounds, the Semi boasts 500 miles (804 kilometers) per charge. The truck has ‘suicide doors’ that open upward as opposed to standard sideway-opening doors. The driver’s cabin itself comfortably accommodates even the tallest of drivers at more than 6”2 and has a centrally-positioned driver’s seat as opposed to the standard left-positioned seat.
Tesla’s newest vehicle has abandoned labyrinthine buttons that were more prone to causing damage as opposed to preventing it, replacing them with two touch screens on the dashboard to control navigation, entertainment, and important information. The Semi is rolling out into markets at a time when there are more cars than trucks on roads, but more emissions produced by the latter than the former.
According to one expert, heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses represent just seven percent of all vehicles on the road and produce 20 percent of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to producing one-third of NOx emissions. Meanwhile, California is trying to put more zero-emission trucks on roads starting 2023, which would make Tesla’s announcement of the Semi just in time. Production of the Semi is expected to start in 2019.
Musk’s young company has become a household name, rolling off the tips of peoples’ tongues with any mention of “auto” and “tech.” Last year, Tesla joined forces with Australian real estate developers Glenvill to build an entire Tesla-empowered town dubbed YarraBend, and earlier this year, the company joined NASA in developing space technology at SpaceX. As exciting as the unveiling of the Semi is for the company, its release has brought a stream of criticisms from auto-tech experts and competitors.
For starters, Bloomberg is concerned with just how affordable the truck will be. If companies are trying to cut costs, should efficient trucks be on the top of their priorities? Others have questioned why Tesla is even venturing in long-haul transport, since there is little room for improving endless cross-country journeys.
On the other hand, there are a number of other companies that plan to release or have already released green semi-trucks akin to Tesla’s Semi, replete with self-driving capabilities. However, Tesla, similar to other tech tycoons, has included “wow-factors” like aesthetics, build or even gadgets and knick-knacks to differentiate products like the Semi. Tesla’s wow-factor is reflected in the number of Teslas on American roads, which reached 50,000 as of this year. However, that is little indication of whether the Semi will make it or break it once it launches on the market.