Analysts: Musk’s Tesla Electric Truck Plans Takes Billions of Investment

July 21, 2016 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk announced his “master plan” for the future of the electric car company, writing in his blog that the Silicon Valley automaker will push into all types of transport, including self-driving electric semi-trucks, pickups and buses.

The auto company is already working on heavy-duty trucks and buses and plans to unveil their design next year, Musk wrote Wednesday.

“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 said.

The tech entrepreneur provided only the briefest details, but said all vehicles developed by Tesla — including trucks and buses — will have self-driving capabilities.

Musk said Tesla also will develop “a new kind of pickup truck.”

Musk outlined where Tesla vehicle development is headed in a post labeled, “Master Plan, Part Deux.” 

It comes 10 years after he published his first plan, which called for developing a low sales volume, expensive electric sports car to fund the development of a larger vehicle. The plan’s next step was to use the money from the first vehicles to develop a high volume, affordable electric car.

Although Tesla Motors has yet to turn an annual profit, Musk has accomplished much of that plan. He developed the Roadster sports car, and then the Model S sedan and Model X crossover. Tesla plans to start production of a $35,000 Model 3 electric sedan next year.

Musk did not say how much Tesla will invest in development of electric self-driving trucks and pickups. But analysts said the bill will be billions of dollars.

“Developing an all-new product line such as a small SUV or pickup truck can conceivably require more than $1 billion of investment each,” Adam Jonas, an analyst with Morgan Stanley Research, wrote in a report to investors Thursday. “Development of an all-new heavy commercial vehicle (Tesla Semi) and the related infrastructure could run into the billions of dollars.”

Jonas said the push into commercial trucks presents risk for Tesla.

“Commercial vehicle transport is a very different end market, with different customers, engineering demands, vehicle demands and infrastructure,” Jonas wrote. “The inclusion of Tesla Semi makes sure that Tesla covers every possible major end market of terrestrial transportation. It reveals yet another sign that Tesla management wants to turn over as many stones as possible, further expanding the scope of the market opportunity… and along with that, the execution risk and the burden of funding the plan.”

Others are already working on electric trucks.

Salt Lake City-based startup Nikola Motor Co., plans to unveil the Nikola One, its first electric-natural gas hybrid Class 8 truck, on Dec. 2 and expects to have a commercial vehicle on the road sometime in 2019.

Nikola’s trucks will be powered by an electric-natural gas hybrid system, similar to what drives electric-diesel locomotives. The truck will contain a large natural gas tank system that will fuel a turbine, which in turn will power the electric motor.

Trevor Milton, Nikola’s founder, said he took inspiration from Nikola Tesla, the electrician and inventor who helped found the alternating current electrical supply, not Musk’s car company that’s also named after the scientist. The companies are not related.

Tesla also faces competition from other vehicle makers delving into autonomous vehicles.

The Freightliner division of Daimler Trucks is already testing its Inspiration self-driving truck on Nevada roadways. Heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer Scania is testing autonomous trucks in mines and even the U.S. Army is conducting tests to pave the way for self-driving truck convoys. All of those vehicles are diesel, rather than electric trucks.

IHS Automotive estimates annual sales of autonomous, or self-driving, heavy-duty trucks could reach 60,000 annually by 2035.

That would amount to 15 percent of sales for trucks in the big, Class 8 weight segment, assuming that the technology is adopted and reaches “appreciable levels” by the end of the next decade, IHS forecasters said.

In his blog, Musk said that vehicle design will change as autonomous transport develops.

“With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager,” he said.

Such a design would relieve traffic congestion caused by buses, he said. Vehicles could shrink by “eliminating the center aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses.”

He envisioned a time when buses would take people all the way to their destination.

While Musk provided few details, including how he will finance the development of a full range of consumer and commercial vehicles, he hinted that people should not underestimate Tesla.

“As of 2016, the number of American car companies that haven’t gone bankrupt is a grand total of two: Ford and Tesla,” Musk said.


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