Some thoughts on the Tesla truck

Elon recently announced that the Tesla semi is going to be announced later this year. Now Tesla announcing a new event never fails to get me excited, and it was no different this time. There was, however, one aspect of this news that I found a little unexpected.

I wasn’t expecting the truck to be that high on Tesla’s priority list. I thought it would make more sense to get the Model Y out the door before moving on to the more commercial side of the automotive market. The Model Y is going to be a compact crossover that Tesla has said is in the works and will likely share its underpinnings with the Model 3. Anyone who follows the consumer automotive sector will tell you that compact crossovers are all the rage in this market.

Basically, I was fully expecting the next automotive product from Tesla to be that compact crossover. It would be a key segment to aid their mission statement of “accelerating the advent of sustainable transport.”

So what gives?

There are a few conclusions that I’ve come to and it’s likely a combination of these things:

1. The EV tipping point

The consumer market for EVs is approaching or has already reached a tipping point. Many of the big players have started to commit to offering consumers compelling electric vehicles that feature longer-range batteries, increasingly competitive pricing as they benefit from economies of scale and traditional car aesthetics (most people just want normal looking cars). In addition, the simple fact that consumers are starting to see EVs as a practical option, is driving market forces to compel manufacturers to address the new demand.

This means that Tesla can begin advancing its mission to other areas of the automotive space and start catalysing the commercial sector in the same way they did in the consumer market. Transitioning the world’s car fleet to electric could take 15 to 20 years if you think about how long a single new car lasts through multiple owners. And that’s assuming everyone stops buying fossil-fuel cars right now and all new-car sales were electric. It’s likely going to be a long road to getting fleet managers convinced about electric trucks being a viable replacement to the battle-tested diesel beasts. So if the consumer market is beginning of take care of itself, it’s probably a good opportunity to shift some of your resources to the commercial sector.

2. Delivery emissions

Cynics like to point out the irony of Tesla delivering its vehicles on soot-spewing trucks making the first journey of most Teslas rather heavy on emissions. And with Tesla going mass market with Model 3, they might have an interest in managing the emissions they produce while delivering a growing number of zero-emission vehicles.

3. This isn’t just about making trucks electric

Tesla is known to be aggressively pushing towards getting driverless technology into the hands of real world drivers. Their reasoning is pretty straight forward: computers are safer drivers because their level of alertness and desire to follow rules doesn’t fluctuate as much as in humans and so having any autonomous tech in the car, even if it’s not full autonomy, is already safer than having none.

Part of Tesla’s success in refining and deploying iterations of their “Autopilot” software suite as quickly as they do is aided by all the real world data that is crowd sourced from Teslas being driven in the real world by customers. And with their consumer-level cars mostly sorted in terms of hardware (Elon says the hardware built into new Teslas will be capable of enabling full autonomy once the software is ready), Tesla will have seen a need to start gathering similar data for truck-driving and so getting this truck out on the roads sooner rather than later will keep them on course to having all vehicles in their line-up developing autonomous capabilities more or less simultaneously.


All this basically comes down to Tesla having reached the end of its 3-part masterplan for consumer EVs and sending that part of the business into a stable cruise in order to redirect its R&D resources.

In the grand scheme of things Model Y isn’t going to be much of a milestone in Tesla’s mission.

In the grand scheme of things Model Y isn’t going to be much of a milestone in Tesla’s mission. It isn’t making a statement at the same level as that of the Roadster (first long range EV), the Model S (first long range electric family car, plus a new thinking in the role of software in cars), the Model X (first and currently the only long range electric SUV) and Model 3 (a mass-market long-range EV benefiting from economies of scale), the last of which has already had some of its boasting-cred watered down by the likes of the Renault Zoe 40 kWh, the Chevrolet Bolt and the fact that this will be a cheaper, less capable version of the rockstar older sibling (though, the Model 3 is still able to hold its own with Tesla’s success in making their 100% EV product line more desirable than its competition). The Model Y will basically be a repeat of that. The truck, on the other hand, is looking to catalyse and transform a whole new segment of the market.

TL;DR

Other manufacturers have started committing to consumer EVs and it’s time Tesla began catalysing the commercial sector the way Roadster, Model S and X did for the consumer sector. Delivery emissions for zero-emission vehicles need to be curbed where possible. Tesla needs to start collecting driving data from trucks to refine its algorithms for autonomous trucks.