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Tesla’s Big Rig Gets Its Big Reveal

By: Bridget Clerkin November 21, 2017
Tesla unveiled its semi truck last week. Company officials say the truck will run for 1 million miles, does 0-60 MPH in 5 seconds, and has windshield glass which could withstand a nuclear explosion.

Tesla may be known for its luxury vehicles, but its latest project is going straight to commercial—shipping, that is.

After several false starts over the past few months, the Silicon Valley automaker publicly unveiled its new electric semi-truck late last week at a glitzy California event planned specifically to show off the vehicle. The freight hauler is worth all the fanfare, says Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The battery-powered behemoth will be able to zoom up to 60 miles per hour in just 20 seconds while carrying a load of 80,000 lbs., Musk told reporters. Without any cargo, that number is even more impressive, with the truck able to reach such speeds in 5 seconds, Musk said, putting it on par with a sports car.

While drivers may be delighted by the idea of piloting such a powerful engine, industry bigwigs were likely more excited about other numbers thrown out by the charismatic Tesla leader—ones regarding the vehicle’s cost-saving potential.

The electric engines will prove more economical, operating at $1.26 per mile, compared to the $1.51 per mile cost of current diesel models, Musk said. And they’ll be able to stretch those savings further than expected, with the ability to drive up to 500 miles before needing a recharge, he added. (According to Musk, the charging process will be short, clocking in at just a half hour.)

Operation costs could see even more reduction thanks to the autonomous driving features that will come standard in the trucks. With computers able to keep a fleet of semis in a tight “platoon” formation—in which the trucks would follow within feet of each other to benefit from drafting—the vehicles would run at just 85 cents per mile, Musk said. (While the Autopilot program still requires human oversight, the eventual ability to operate the trucks driver-free would bring even greater savings for fleet owners—and more turmoil for drivers.)

No price point on the vehicles was announced at the event, but Tesla officials said the trucks would be available starting in 2019.

Still, the Silicon Valley company has some history struggling to live up to its lofty promises.

This summer, Musk announced Tesla would build 20,000 of its Model 3 vehicles per month by December, and 10,000 per week by next year. But by September, the company had produced just 260 Model 3s, according to a quarterly report, and in October, Tesla laid off as many as 700 employees, though representatives said slow production wasn’t to blame.

Indeed, the unveiling of the semi, originally intended to take place in early fall, had been postponed several times before last week’s event.

But at least one customer will keep the dream of electric semis trucking along: Walmart. The ubiquitous retail giant already preordered 15 of the vehicles, company officials recently announced. Whether Tesla can deliver on that order, however, remains to be seen.

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