Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric skunkworks company, launched a semi-truck a month ago and has already received orders for more than 245 rigs. Just reserving one costs $5,000, and the expected sticker price for each will be in the $150,000 to $180,000 range. The buyers aren’t companies you’ve never heard of, either. Pepsi ordered 100 trucks; Anheuser Bush, 40; Walmart, 15; Sysco, 50; and J.B. Hunt is getting 40. These are not light bets on new technology, and early adopters are expecting to win big with Tesla electric rigs.
Why? There’s a lot of money riding on the future of trucking. Trucks move more than 70 percent of all U.S. freight and generated $676.2 billion in revenue in 2016. 33.8 million trucks were registered for business purposes, including almost four million Class 8 trucks, which are the biggest freight haulers. Trucks are an enormous part of our economy, and the operators who run the most efficiently stand to be the most competitive.
Current diesel technology is reliable, but dirty and expensive. In 2016, more than $89 billion was spent on diesel fuel, which is the second biggest expense behind labor for operators, and can be as high as 20 percent of operating costs. That’s massive, and indicative of a need to get more efficient. But trucking technology adoption has typically evolved slowly. Most trucks log more than a million miles before they’re retired. To stay competitive, existing assets must be retrofit, which in some cases can cost more than buying a new truck. So, it makes sense that electric trucks are getting a lot of attention.
Change always brings friction: it’s exciting and daunting at the same time, but there are more benefits than drawbacks that innovation like Tesla’s is brings to trucking. For instance:
• A new generation of workers attracted to the technology. There’s a critical driver shortage, and in 2017 there was a 100,000-driver deficit. The average age of truckers is 49. The prospect of working with exciting new technologies like electric rigs should entice a younger demographic to enter the field.
• Reducing the amount of carbon emissions being pumped into the air. The world is going green, and trucking needs to catch up sooner rather than later since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is enforcing legislation that compels the industry to cut carbon emissions 25 percent by 2027. That represents $170 billion in fuel costs. Imagine what cutting even more fuel out of the nations’ fleet of commercial haul trucks would mean for operators’ bottom lines.
• Tesla’s trucks represent an exponential leap forward from current technology, which is just the start. Wireless connectivity is already the norm – mandated, in fact with the recent ELD law – and is making way for enhanced autopilot applications and other semi-autonomous and enhanced safety technology. Technology such as GPS fleet tracking offers operators more ways to run their business efficiently, safely and profitably just makes sense.
It's a little soon to predict when Tesla’s electric trucks will replace the diesel fleet, but the pace at which they’re being ordered means this is not a matter of ‘if,’ but when—that’s Tesla’s vision, anyway. Yes, e-commerce, a thriving economy and new regulations bring challenges, but it’s exciting to see how the industry is evolving to thrive with a growing workforce and new tools to get the job done.
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