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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tesla Semi: 500 Miles in 2020, 1000 miles in 2030


I just watched a conservative "news" program interview a trucker that said the Tesla semi truck was a farce, that it would never work, that 500 miles was not enough range, and that the recharging network would never be built.

Some people don't want to accept change. As Halt And Catch Fire put it "You are the future...nothing is scarier."

My dad was a truck driver. He drove for Chevron, Blue Bell Potato Chips, Navajo Express, and was an independent driver when he finally retired from trucking. We lived in Portland, Oregon. When I was in middle school, during school breaks, I'd ride with him up and down the west coast. Seattle and back in a day, or an early start and a long drive to Los Angeles for a day or two and then back on the road heading home.

How would Tesla's 500-mile truck work for these runs?

Portland to Seattle is about 175 miles. This means that you could make it there and back and still have more than 100 miles of range left. If the loading docks where you pick up and drop off have chargers, you'd have even more range without ever stopping explicitly to charge.

Heading from Portland to LA is different. It's about 965 miles one way. And you have to drive through the Cascades in southern Oregon and over the Mt. Shasta pass in northern California. The drive to LA would require at least one charging stop, considering the mountains, likely two stops.

There's a Tesla Supercharger in Grants Pass and that would be a good spot for a Megacharger too before heading over Mt Shasta. Driving through the mountains, the Tesla Semi would have far more power than a low geared diesel. Performancewise, diving the torquey Tesla Semi with a full load would feel like running a diesel with empty cargo holds, except you'd have a load that you'd be getting paid for.

The way the driving rules are written, truckers are required to take (and log) breaks on long drives. The Tesla charging times will align very nicely with these. And because the Tesla Semi will be able to move swiftly through these mountain passes, you be able to go farther between breaks.

After 25 minutes charging at Grants Pass, the semi will be able to climb the pass without breaking a sweat. Then it's literally downhill from there. The regenerative breaking in the semi will slow the descent from Mt Shasta to Redding while recharging the battery. From there the semi should have enough charge to make it to the Bay Area. Another 30-minute charge and a logged break anywhere between Sacramento and San Jose will be enough to complete the trip to LA.

So the trip to LA can be done with 2 meal breaks where both the driver and the truck recharge a little.

The two trips I illustrated here both happen to have worked out well. You certainly could find coast to coast trips where it would be much more difficult to stop every 500 miles. But if you are using those examples to say "the Tesla Semi is a farce that will never work", then let me offer this in another light. Fleet managers are not dumb, they are only going to use battery powered trucks where they work well. The diesel-powered truck will still be part of their fleet to cover the longer routes. This is until the battery-powered semis can handle those too.

Let's look at one technology comparison. When digital cameras came out, they had a horrible resolution and the major camera companies like Kodak dismissed them. What Kodak did not see was the growth curve of the technology. Digital cameras soon had good enough images for sharing on the dial-up internet, then on broadband social media, and today you can buy digital cameras with resolutions that are better than film grains.

So the battery-powered semis will be used for select routes in the beginning. The ones that can be done without charging (like Portland to Seattle and back, the shipping dock to the warehouse, or on regular well-defined distribution routes). Another option for early Tesla Semi routes are ones with charging conveniently located at required break intervals such as Minneapolis to Denver with a dinner/recharging break in Omaha. From from these humble starts, the technology will keep improving adding about 100 miles by 2023, for 600 miles of range, then 700 miles in 2026, and hitting 1,000 miles of range in 2030. This will open many more opportunities.

One thousand miles might seem impossible, but that prediction only requires a modest 7% improvement each year. Lithium-ion battery technology has been advancing at just this rate for over a decade and it shows no sign of slowing. During some years it has advanced 9 or 11%.


Just as battery advances allowed mobile phones to shrink and talk times to improve, over the next decade battery tech will now allow semi recharge times to shrink and ranges to improve.

The game has changed. Fighting that fact is like fighting the tide.

http://ts.la/patrick7819