Easing off the gas: Tesla trucks are here
Monday, November 20, 2017
Even if you'd only gotten into the logistics game yesterday, you'd be hard-pressed to miss the dire warnings about the state of truck driver shortages in the industry. It's a perfect storm of job popularity flagging with the younger set, an older generation of drivers aging out and wages falling while expectations are on the rise.
Without drivers, trucks can't run, and that means huge, ongoing disruptions in nearly every facet of the domestic supply chain. For all the hype about driverless cars, the technology is still slow going. The idea of autonomous trucks, however, holds far more sway in an economy driven — no pun intended — by a need for inexpensive goods delivered quickly and reliably.
Tesla, long a company in the spotlight for vehicular innovation, unveiled the much-hyped Tesla Semi truck Thursday in response to increasingly loud demands for a logistics vehicle that balances driver comfort, pollution control and potential growth into a fully automated model.
The center-mounted driver's seat relies heavily on cameras rather than mirrors — a unique strategy that bears real-world testing at the hands of seasoned drivers — as well as two monitors that display those feeds. The cab feels far more like a futuristic cockpit than anything resembling a current traditional truck cab, giving the driver plenty of room to move.
The one sticking point is the lack of sleeping quarters in the Tesla Semi, though word has it that future models will be adding this feature.
Externally, the lines of the truck follow the same sleek playbook as Tesla's passenger cars — futuristic, again, is the key adjective that springs to mind. This design looks appealing, of course, but where it really shines is aerodynamics. With a 500-mile range on a single charge, every inch of this electric semi truck is meant to glide effortlessly through wind and weather alike.
When it comes time to "fuel" up, options are still limited. If the new truck stop-like charging station in Kettleman City, Calfiornia, is any indication, look to see higher roofs to accommodate electric trucks in new charging stations popping up across the country.
While any innovation this big is arguable a gamble, it already looks to be paying off for Tesla founder Elon Musk. The most visible American name on the Tesla Semi preorder list is likely Walmart, who committed to ordering 15 electric semi trucks — five for use domestically and another 10 for use on Canadian shipping routes.
Volume-wise, however, Canadian grocery chain Loblaw's looks to have them beat, signing up for 25 of their own trucks in a hope to drive down logistics costs on the infamously slender margins of grocery products. Chicago-based grocery chain Meijer signed up for a more modest quartet of trucks, and transportation firm JB Hunt would only confirm that they'd ordered "multiple" semis to work into their own fleet.
While Musk's electric semi truck isn't yet driving itself, the existence of these models and the hefty preorders are definitively paving the way. Once these vehicles have some significant road time under their proverbial belts — they don't come out until 2019 — the push to partially or fully autonomous operation won't be an uphill battle.
While logistics professionals are sure to keep a close eye on the progression and market saturation of these intriguing new truck options, don't look for classic transportation to pull over just yet — they've still got quite a few miles left on their diesel-powered engines.
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