Tesla claims its Semi electric truck will be ready for delivery in 2019

Tesla claims its Semi electric truck will be ready for delivery in 2019

Following last week's announcement of a Tesla electric truck with first deliveries in 2019, just-auto's QUBE research database has updated its section covering such vehicles. We note that, while the rise of electric passenger vehicles is firmly established, it's taken longer for electric trucks and commercial vehicles to appear in the mainstream automotive industry. The drive towards electrified powertrains stems from the worldwide effort to lower emissions, significantly hastened by toughened legislation in the wake of the Dieselgate emissions fixing scandal. Some European nations are already introducing bans on the future sale of non-electrified vehicles, so the inevitable turn toward electric power is a considerable concern for vehicle manufacturers.

Light passenger vehicles have largely been the recipients of electric powertrains so far, with the technology taking longer to appear on heavier commercial vehicles – battery packs typically don't offer enough range to cover the vast distances some trucks travel on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, this means the introduction of battery-electric power in commercial vehicles begins with intra-city applications such as mail delivery trucks before moving to longer-range models as the technology improves. Indeed, many will already be familiar with electric milk floats that have made local grocery deliveries for some time. A number of automakers have begun to introduce alternative electric powertrains for light vans such as Renault's Kangoo, Nissan's NV200 and, with e-Vito orders being taken from today, Mercedes-Benz Vans has announced it plans to offer all its commercial van model lines with electric drive with first deliveries in 2018. Iveco offers its mid-size Daily van as an electric model as well.

Limitations in battery technology, much more so than electric motor technology, are a restricting factor in the rollout of electric powertrains to commercial vehicles. Issues surrounding battery range, the length of time it needs to recharge and, in the long term, how long the battery remains able to perform at an expected level are all barriers to batteries becoming a mainstream source of power. Commercial vehicle operators are even more cost-driven than passenger car buyers and, while they could benefit from electric trucks in terms of reduced fleet fuel costs, they must account for how far a truck is able to go, how long it'll be off the road when charging and, indeed, whether it'll still perform as required in 10 years time.

If battery design limitations can be addressed, electric trucks present a number of key benefits compared to conventionally powered models. Foremost is the massive reduction in fuel costs – heavy trucks require a great deal of energy so burn lots of fuel and, while this is typically mitigated by the vast loads they can carry, this represents a significant proportion of an operator's income statement. Electricity costs much less than fuel so 'filling' an electric truck with the same amount of energy represents a large cost saving.

Tesla claims its Semi can carry a little over 36 tonnes when fully loaded with a range of 500 miles at highway speeds. It's also claimed to reach 60mph in 20 seconds when fully loaded compared with over a minute for a conventional truck. The electric powertrain is said to significantly reduce brake wear because the motors in the wheels offer regenerative braking. Overall costs per mile are claimed to be lower than diesel trucks once fuel and maintenance is taken into account. Tesla also claims it climbs 5% grades at a steady 65mph, whereas a diesel truck maxes out at 45mph on a 5% grade. A centred driver position offers optimal visibility and built-in connectivity integrates directly with a fleet's management system to support routing and scheduling, and remote monitoring. Diesel trucks today currently require several third party devices for similar functionality. Megachargers, a new high-speed DC charging solution, will add about 400 miles in 30 minutes and can be installed at origin or destination points and along heavily trafficked routes, enabling recharging during loading, unloading, and driver breaks.

Jack knifing is claimed to be prevented due to the Semi's onboard sensors that detect instability and react with positive or negative torque to each wheel while independently actuating all brakes. Surround cameras aid object detection and minimize blind spots, automatically alerting the driver to safety hazards and obstacles. With Enhanced Autopilot, the Tesla Semi features Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping, Lane Departure Warning, and event recording. The Semi can also travel in a convoy, where one or several trucks will be able to autonomously follow a lead vehicle.

Other manufacturers also have electric truck plans. Daimler has revealed the E-Fuso Vision One concept which can haul 11 tonnes with a 217 mile range and the platform can also underpin buses. Cummins, known for its diesel engines, has just bought American electric powertrain specialist Brammo, suggesting Cummins plans to join the electric truck market. Chinese automaker BYD has announced plans to open a new assembly plant for electric buses in Ontario, Canada while startup Nikola has demonstrated two heavy duty truck FCVs with a hydrogen refill time of just 15 minutes.

Wrightspeed is currently testing a battery-electric truck supplemented by a range-extending turbine engine and the powertrain has been shown in a Mack truck. New York-based Bollinger Motors has shown off a utilitarian electric SUV and Daimler's Freightliner in 2015 launched its Supertruck concept that uses a hybrid system combined with a device on the exhaust to recapture waste heat to save fuel. The E-Fuso electric truck is already on sale.

Just last September, Volkswagen and Navistar, International Trucks' parent company, announced they would work together to introduce a medium-duty truck to the North American market in 2019. They will collaborate on a model aimed at urban delivery customers, able to carry around 18 tonnes with a claimed range of around 112 miles. Scania in late 2016 became the first company to test a battery powered electric bus that was recharged wirelessly through the road surface. Terberg, a Dutch manufacturer of specialty heavy duty commercial vehicles, in 2015 was commissioned to build a 40-tonne heavy duty truck to carry parts between a BMW logistics centre and a factory in Munich. BMW told just-auto earlier this year the trial was proving very satisfactory. Another Dutch firm, Emoss, takes vans and trucks built by other manufacturers and refits them with electric or range-extending hybrid powertrains. Its models have a range of up to 155 miles, aiming them at urban delivery applications and other intra-city commercial duties.

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more