Tesla Inc. plans to unveil an electric semi-truck in September, Elon Musk, the electric car company’s chief executive, said Thursday.
Musk said last year that the company was working on an electric truck but has provided few details except to say it would have self-driving capabilities like other new Tesla models.
On Twitter Thursday morning the tech entrepreneur said, “Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.”
But yet again, there were no other details.
“The question to me is when you’re talking about an electric truck like that, what kind of infrastructure would Tesla be signing up for alongside that?” said Michael Ramsey, the automotive analyst at Gartner Inc.
Would it be just the truck, or would Musk also expand Tesla's network of electric charging stations to manage commercial vehicle needs, Ramsey asked.
“Being able to develop a prototype, that’s one thing,” Ramsey said. “The other thing is where are you going to build it and how are you going to build it. There’s a huge capital requirement and now you’re getting into a very different business where your volumes are much lower, prices are much higher and you still have to put in the capital to build it.”
He said Tesla's auto factory in Fremont, Calif., and battery plant near Reno, Nev., might not be big enough to handle an expansion into commercial vehicles.
Previously Musk has said he believes that virtually all forms of transportation eventually will be powered by electricity rather than internal combustion engines.
Replacing diesels with electric trucks will be a long and challenging task, industry analysts said.
“I’m actually kind of surprised because I thought Tesla has its hands full just dealing with all the things they’re supposed to be doing on their cars,” said Steven Shladover, program manager at California PATH, or Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology at U.C. Berkeley. “It gets into all sorts of questions about how do they provide usable range given the types of payloads that they’d have to be able to haul?”
Electric vehicles will make up just 1 percent of the entire trucking market by 2020, according to industry research firm IHS Markit. That will grow to 10 percent a decade later.
Electric trucks will make up higher percentages of overseas markets — up to 10 percent in the European Union and Japan by 2030 and as much as 12 percent in China, IHS researchers said.
“The overall technology acceptance and cost barriers are expected to represent a constraint for many commercial trucking applications,” Tom de Vleesschauwer, a London-based trucking industry analyst at IHS Markit told Trucks.com in an interview last year. “Pure e-trucks, like Tesla proposes, will be incompatible with the required usage characteristics, barring any major breakthrough in battery and other related technology such as electric motors.”
Tesla is in the middle of readying the launch of its Model 3 sedan this year. Smaller than its Model S sports sedan and Model X SUV, the Model 3 is designed to sell for as low as $35,000 and surpass sales of its current models, which typically cost more than $100,000.
The company also is working on a Model Y, a compact SUV that analysts predict could eventually become the Palo Alto, Calif., the automaker’s top seller.
Tesla delivered 73,630 vehicles globally in 2016, but in an August call with investors, Musk predicted the Model Y alone will command sales between 500,000 and 1 million vehicles annually, globally.
“It's the obvious priority after the Model 3,” Musk said.
Last year, Musk issued his “master plan” for the future of the electric car company, writing in his blog that Tesla will push into all types of transport, including self-driving electric semi-trucks, pickups and buses.
“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.
Analysts at the time said the project represented a significant risk for the automaker.
Development of a Tesla semi-truck and the related infrastructure “could run into the billions of dollars,” said Adam Jonas, an analyst with Morgan Stanley Research.
“Commercial vehicle transport is a very different end market, with different customers, engineering demands, vehicle demands and infrastructure,” Jonas wrote in a report to investors. “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.”
Tesla, however, has proved adept at tapping financial markets to raise capital when needed. Although Tesla's global annual deliveries amount to less than half the Chevrolet Malibu sedans General Motors sells in the U.S. each year, the electric car company has the same stock market valuation as GM – about $50 billion.
Others are already working on heavy-duty electric trucks.
Mitsubishi Fuso announced plans at the 2017 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis last month to bring a new line of electric work trucks to the North American market.
The division of German automotive giant Daimler AG said it will be the first fully-electric work truck designed and produced by a major truck manufacturer. The first models will be delivered to U.S. customers later this year.
“We want Fuso to be the Tesla of electric trucks,” said Jecka Glasman, chief executive of Fuso.
The truck will have a range of 100 miles per charge. Fuso expects to rapidly replace this first model with a new version with greater range and technology.
Also last month, the first of 27 all-electric Class 8 yard trucks started work at a freight yard in the smog-impacted community of Fontana, Calif. as part of a special emissions reduction plan.
The trucks, all to be built by the U.S. arm of Chinese electric vehicle giant BYD Motors, are being paid for jointly by the California’s Air Resources Board, which kicked in $9.1 million, and from $10.1 million in cash and in-kind funds from program participants.
They will be deployed in Southern California under a demonstration program aimed at hastening commercialization of zero-emission heavy trucks in the state.
Editor’s note: Trucks.com staff writer Ryan ZumMallen contributed to this report.