Elon Musk, CEO of the Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors, Inc., recently announced the company’s newest master plan for the future. His forward-thinking strategy includes ongoing development of electric pick-up trucks, heavy-duty trucks, and high passenger density urban transport vehicles with additional focus on making autonomous driving technology safer and encouraging vehicle sharing.
In a blog post released on the Tesla website, Musk noted that many types of large vehicles are in the early stages of development and should be ready for unveiling by Tesla next year. The announcement shared the plan to expand Tesla production to cover all major forms of terrestrial transport. Tesla currently offers three different models of their electric car for personal use, making this announcement their first step toward a venture in commercial vehicles.
“We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate,” Musk wrote.
From his latest announcement it’s still unclear if the vehicles in development are to be purely autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, or both, as the type of vehicle category it intends to launch itself in, would certainly be riddled with challenges as lot of other companies are in hot pursuit of autonomous and electric driving technologies.
Tesla Motors is an automotive and energy Storage Company famous for its electric vehicles and battery products as well as its Autonomous-driving technologies, but up till now it has only been involved in the category of smaller vehicles and this will be its first venture in the trucking category in which there is a lot of scope to power on.
Autonomous trucks promise up to $1.3 trillion in savings to the US economy a year, making it a highly lucrative industry for companies like Tesla and with a vast range of options like class 8 heavy vehicles, semi-trucks, dump trucks, excavators, cranes and even buses, this decision on part of Tesla surely has a promising future.
Autonomy is having a profound impact on the way that we transport humans, and translating those technologies into the transportation of goods is an area that is also being addressed by competitors. Autonomous transport fleets could eventually make the profession of truck drivers obsolete – or transition drivers to positions as fleet managers.
Tesla’s announcement puts their team in the company of Daimler/ Freightliner, who tested autonomous trucks on public roads in Germany earlier this year, and PACCAR/ Peterbilt who recently tested trucks on the roads of Nevada – the only state where purely autonomous trucks are currently allowed to operate.
The master plan announcement was interestingly timed, as Tesla came under scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) earlier this year after a fatal collision in Florida showed that the self-driving Autopilot mode was engaged on one of Tesla’s Model S vehicles before the accident. According to the investigation, the driver may have not heeded warnings about the need for keeping hands on the wheel and attentiveness. The driver was unable to take over control of the vehicle before it failed to brake and slammed under the long side of a Class 8 tractor-trailer.
Tesla vehicles are all-electric sedans that are capable of operating in semi-autonomous modes in certain situations. Despite these new concerns over safety, the numbers show that Tesla’s autopilot-enabled vehicles have a much safer track record than national averages.
“According to the recently released 2015 NHTSA report, automotive fatalities increased by 8% to one death every 89 million miles,” said Musk. “Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day. It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named.”
Ten years ago Musk spelled out his company’s then “secret plan” which called for using the money from the sales of different price point luxury cars to finance the development and production of economical and affordable sedans. Now, this new master plan explains Tesla’s vision for the future and includes more models, more autonomy, and more car sharing. In the works is a pickup truck version of the Model 3 sedan as well as the aforementioned busses and semi-trucks.
Tesla’s announcement to join others working on autonomous truck fleets and electric trucks was met with some skepticism. Creating long-haul electric trucks is, in itself, a logistically challenging proposition fraught with cumbersome current realities.
Battery-electric over-the-road trucks are seen as unachievable by many in the industry. The good reasons for this cynicism include the battery weight that would be needed to extend the range of the trucks to the 600 plus miles typically driven, as well as the long charging times that would be required. Jumping these hurdles would be an astounding achievement, and one that many manufacturers are working on. Musk’s lofty ambitions may indicate that Tesla Energy has the intention of producing higher energy density battery cells to increase battery capacity beyond the projected 5 percent per year.
Other prohibitive considerations include the cost of development, which is estimated at a minimum of $3 billion. To compete against other more established producers, like Daimler and Paccar, Tesla will need to raise enough capital.
“It’s beyond us how much fundraising Tesla will need to carry out this master plan,” Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a research note.
Musk, however, remains confident that the master plan goals are well within reach. Autonomous electric driving – which is more economical, better for the environment, and safer – will only continue to improve as the Tesla software and technology is fine-tuned through beta-testing and clocking billions of hours’ worth of data from real-world driving situations.