Silicon Valley is known for its penchant to “think big,” but Tesla is taking that philosophy literally.
The Palo Alto-based company famous for its electric cars has decided to scale up, taking on the construction of an electric semi-truck.
Due to be unveiled next month, the long-haul 18-wheeler will likely be the first of its kind, powered entirely by batteries, but with enough might to pull a commercial load. And despite Tesla’s already intensive production schedule, it could start manufacturing the vehicle on a large scale within 2 years, USA Today reported.
Changing the DNA of so many machines won’t be easy, but that time frame could give Tesla a chance to tweak the details, including how big the battery must be—and how to fit it inside the trucks. Some experts guessed that the company could currently move the behemoth vehicles about 200 to 300 miles in a battery-powered stretch. While impressive, it doesn’t touch the typical 400- to 600-mile day covered by most long-haul truckers.
Still, if distance remains an issue, Tesla could potentially utilize its network of charging stations set up across the country, where the vehicles could fill up on juice while their drivers take federally mandated breaks.
That is—as long as they’ll have drivers.
The shipping industry has long been in the crosshairs of ambitious auto manufacturers who believe the long hours of highway driving needed to move freight around the country could be a perfect time to work out self-driving technology. Those stretches of road are generally easier for computers to navigate, as they’re free from too many turns and traffic signals, and human drivers tend to behave more predictably.
While there’s been no open talk about Tesla’s semi having autonomous capabilities, the company discussed the possibility with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, according to e-mails obtained by Reuters. (Such a driver-free model would not be permitted for testing on the roads of its native California.)
The carmaker reportedly imagined a potential “platoon” of the vehicles, in formation, following a lead truck, similar to a pack of migrating birds. If fully implemented, such technology could send huge ripples through the trucking world, with the job of “driver” just another casualty in the era of autonomous vehicles.
Still, when it comes to pushing progress forward, it seems like Tesla is in it for the long haul.