Tesla Semi: Everything we know in May 2022

Tesla has revolutionized the global electric mobility movement with its quirky and incredibly efficient passenger vehicles. In November 2017, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk announced plans to enter the commercial transport industry with the Tesla Semi electric truck. The Semi is not just any truck; it’s a zero-emissions freight-hauling cargo machine that trumps traditional oil guzzlers on all fronts like range, economy, operational costs, and performance.

Here’s everything we know about the Tesla Semi as of today:

Tesla Semi Design

There’s a unique cab construction for the Tesla Semi and arguably the cleanest design we have seen on a truck. It appears as if it belongs to the future. There’s a massive wraparound glass area upfront that slopes into the frunk. The glass area is so large, that its panels extend to the doors. Tesla dropped door mirrors on the Semi for aerodynamic benefits. Instead, cameras positioned at the extreme rear send a feed to the interior screens.

Diesel trucks usually have enormous grilles to maximize airflow to the high cubic capacity engines. The Tesla Semi, being an EV, has its nose is blanked off, while its chin houses a relatively small air intake to cool the battery, which sits between the front and rear axles. It has one axle on the front and two axles at the rear, making for a 6×4 tractor layout. The rear houses the trailer bed and the tow hitch.

Elon Musk made significant claims about the aerodynamic capabilities of the Tesla Semi, explaining its smooth surfacing and clean overall design.

The truck is designed like a bullet. The Tesla Semi has a 0.36 drag coefficient. Better than the Bugatti Chiron, which has a 0.38 coefficient of drag. The aerodynamics help it achieve an incredible range.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the Tesla Semi & Roadster unveil in 2017.
Tesla Semi electric truck
The smooth surfacing and completely flat floor make the Tesla Semi highly aerodynamic. Image: Tesla

Specifications

Tesla has not revealed the power and torque figures of the Semi. But there’s confirmation of a quad-motor set-up on the rear axles. The 6×4 (6 axles, 4 driven wheels) tractor body style has four electric motors at the rear to haul massive cargo. With a payload of 80,000 pounds, Tesla claims that acceleration time from 0-60 mph is only 20 seconds. On a diesel truck, it would take a lot more than that.

Without the payload, the Tesla Semi accelerates like a mid-range sports car with a 0-60 mph time of just 5 seconds. According to the brand’s presentation, a regular diesel truck takes 15 seconds. Moreover, on a 5% gradient, the Tesla Semi can drive up to speeds of 60 mph with a maximum cargo of 80,000 pounds.

According to a report by Wired in November 2017, the Semi will have the same motors as a Model 3, each producing 258 hp. In total, we see over 1000 hp. There’s no word on the torque figure yet, but we know that electric vehicles develop a wealth of torque, so expect the Semi’s powertrain to produce a four-digit torque figure.

Tesla Semi white front three quarter
Tesla claims that the Semi is the safest truck ever. Image Source: Tesla

500 miles of range

For truckers, the range would be a primary concern. Tesla has addressed range anxiety comprehensively, at least on paper. There will be two battery versions, one that provides 300 miles of range and one that delivers 500 miles. The energy consumption is claimed to be incredibly low with less than 2 kWh per mile.

500 miles at maximum weight, at highway speeds which is 60 mph. 500 miles is a worst-case scenario. The vast majority of routes are under 250 miles. You can go to your destination, and even if it has no charging, you can come back home without recharging.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the Tesla Semi & Roadster unveil in 2017 

The claimed figures seem more than adequate given the United States’ rules for truckers. In the USA, truck drivers are legally required to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving, according to the United States Department of Transportation. 400 miles is the distance truckers typically cover in 8 hours, approximately, according to Tesla.

Tesla Semi rear
The Tesla Semi gets a 6×4 configuration with 4 electric motors at the rear. Image: Tesla

For the Semi to recharge up to a level that provides 400 miles of range, it takes 30 minutes using Tesla’s solar-powered mega chargers. Hence, the math would work out perfectly if the said range and charging times were accurate, without the drivers waiting unnecessarily long for their Semi to charge. However, no motoring journalists or range-testing organizations have reviewed the Semi yet.

There’s an 11-hour driving limit and a 14-hour duty limit in the USA, including non-driving activities like unloading the cargo. Truck drivers are also required to take 34 hours of rest at the end of every working week. If the carriers don’t comply with these rules, driving privileges can be revoked, penalties are charged, and the carrier’s safety rating suffers.

500 miles at maximum weight, at highway speeds which is 60 mph. 500 miles is a worst-case scenario. The vast majority of routes are under 250 miles. You can go to your destination, and even if it has no chargers, you can come back home without recharging.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the Tesla Semi & Roadster unveil in 2017

4680 Cells

The Tesla Semi should use 4680 cells, at least in one version. The new type of cell measures 80 mm in length and around 46 mm in diameter, hence the 4680 name. At the Tesla Battery Day 2020, Andrew Baglino, the company’s Senior Vice President for Powertrain and Energy Engineering, said that 4680 cells give five times the energy, six times the power, and a 16% higher range as compared to the current cells.

Tesla Semi scenic
Using 4680 cells would mean fewer charging stops and higher performance. Image Source: Tesla

Tesla will source 4680 cells for the Semi likely from Panasonic Corporation. Kazuo Tadanobu, the CEO of Panasonic Corporation’s Energy Company, talked about their 4680 cells in a recent interview with Bloomberg. Development of the 4680 has “taken an immense amount of stamina,” and designing an entirely new shape particularly took “considerable nerve,” Tadanobu said. The company will begin mass-producing batteries made of 4680 cells in FY2024 (April 2023 – March 2024), Bloomberg said in a report following the interview. The initial recipients would be current Tesla cars.

Tadanobu indicated that Panasonic Corporation will manufacture the batteries comprising 4680 cells for Tesla EVs at its Wakayama plant in Japan. However, according to a recent article from NHK, the company may open a U.S. battery plant for Tesla EVs in Oklahoma or Kansas.

800-volt electrical system

Tesla thinks switching from a 400-volt architecture to an 800-volt architecture for midsize and smaller models like the Model 3, Model Y, and Tesla RoboTaxi would be costly. However, the higher system voltage makes sense for larger applications like the Cybertruck and Semi, Baglino said during the company’s Q1 2022 earnings conference call on April 20, 2022.

On bigger EVs, where there’s a requirement for higher charging power, higher power from the battery to power the power electronics, or more torque, enough semiconductor savings are possible by opting for 800 volts instead of the usual 400 volts, Baglino explained. In addition to consistent high performance and reduced charging time, an 800-volt system would reduce the weight and installation space of the cabling.

AspectTesla Semi Specifications
Drag Coefficient0.36 Cd
Payload capacity80,000 lbs
Powertrain6X4 / 4 independent motors on rear axles
Range300 or 500 miles
Acceleration 0-60 mph (w/o payload)5 seconds
Acceleration 0-60 mph (maximum payload)20 seconds
Speed up a 5% grade65 mph
Energy consumptionLess than 2 kWh per mile
Fuel savingsMore than USD 200,000
Tesla Semi specifications

Interior & Features

The interior is unique. The driver’s seat is centrally positioned, and Tesla says this allows better overall visibility out of the windshield. Behind the driver’s seat, there are two additional foldable seats. There are two massive touchscreens on the two extreme ends of the dashboard. Expect these two screens to feature Tesla’s brilliant UI and the usual suite of connectivity offered in its road cars, in addition to truck-specific features that showcase trailer data and more.

Tesla Semi interior
Clean interior of the Tesla Semi with central seating position, car-like steering, and two touchscreens. Image: Tesla

Thanks to the Tesla Mobile application, there will also be a full suite of remotely controlled features. Owners will be able to access remote diagnostics, location tracking, and communication for Dispatch. There’s the predictive maintenance feature also where the system analyses the health of the truck and alerts the owner when it’s time for a service. Fleet owners can also access this extensive data without any hassle.

Tesla showcased the Semi at the Tesla Cyber Rodeo event on April 7, 2022. YouTube channel Dirty Tesla has posted pictures from the event in the video embedded below:

Video Source: YouTube/Dirty Tesla

Safety

Another area where the Tesla Semi will break significant ground is safety. The Tesla Semi is slated to feature the brand’s ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ suite of features as standard. The range of safety features includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and automatic lane-keeping assist. If the Tesla Semi senses no driver input, it will stay in the lane, come to a slow and gradual halt, and automatically dial an emergency number.

There’s an enhanced traction control system on the Tesla Semi to prevent jackknifing. Jackknifing refers to the unusual folding of highly articulated vehicles like trailers because of uncontrolled inertia. It occurs when the heavy trailers cause the truck to contort to awkward angles, often causing accidents. Tesla’s engineers have incorporated an advanced traction control system where jackknifing is wholly avoided.

Additionally, the Tesla Semi’s drivetrain is guaranteed to last one million miles. Even if two of the four motors break down, the Tesla Semi can still function and beat a diesel truck in acceleration and range. What’s more? CEO Elon Musk claimed that the Semi would require no brake pad changes ever. Brake energy regeneration, which recovers kinetic energy and stores it in an electrical form in the battery, naturally slows the vehicle down.

Automatic Tire Inflation System

Tesla could offer the Semi with an Automatic Tire Inflation System (ATIS), as per a report from electrek. The company has received USPTO’s grant for the patent for this technology, which could automatically revise the tire pressure and keep it at the optimum level. electrek has seen the patent application and says that it mentioned John Furtado as the inventor of the technology. Furtado has worked on the Semi’s brake controls, brakes, pneumatics, tires, wheel ends, and wheels.

An ATIS is not new technology, but Tesla is improving it. Its version of the ATIS substantially reduces contamination in the air stream. As the air stream is purer, the ATIS’ life increases, and it requires maintenance less frequently.

Thermonuclear explosion-proof glass

Tesla Semi red color front
The Tesla Semi features a thermonuclear explosion-proof glass as standard. Image Source: Tesla

That’s not it. The large glass area on the Tesla Semi is no ordinary kit. It’s what Tesla calls ‘thermonuclear explosion-proof glass’ offered as standard. According to the CEO, truck glasses are enormous, and they break once a year on average. If the glass breaks, drivers cannot use the truck because of apparent safety and visibility concerns, resulting in revenue loss and inconvenience to customers. Tesla’s thermonuclear explosion-proof glass would eliminate these issues.

Price & Rivals

Tesla expects to launch the Semi at a base price of USD 150,000 (300-mile version)/USD 180,000 (500-mile version). It is taking Semi reservations with a deposit of USD 20,000 now. Multiple

Tesla Semi blue color front three quarter
Tesla Semi reservations are open, but a specific delivery timeline isn’t available at the moment. Image Source: Tesla

The Freightliner eM2 cost USD 400,000 in 2018, which was nearly four times its diesel counterpart, according to a report by trucks.com. Speaking of diesel semis, a Volvo VNR 300 costs USD 140,400, according to a January 23, 2022 report by a2zvehicle.

Tesla says that diesel trucks are 20% more expensive in terms of operational costs. The Tesla Semi costs USD 1.26 per mile, while an average diesel truck costs USD 1.51 per mile. Tesla says the figures were calculated using a 100-mile route, 60 mph average speed, 80,000 pounds payload, USD 2.50 gallon diesel, and 7 cents per kWh electricity price. The point the company is trying to make here is that the electric truck’s high initial price can be recovered by low operational costs and minimal maintenance costs.

Rivals of the Tesla Semi include the Volvo VNR Electric, Freightliner eM2, Kenworth T680E, and Peterbilt 579EV.

Tesla Semi priceValue
Expected base price (300-mile version)USD 150,000
Expected base price (500-mile version)USD 180,000
Base reservationUSD 20,000

Production & Release date

Pre-production units of the Tesla Semi were spotted outside Giga Nevada in December 2021. However, volume production of Tesla’s electric truck will take place at the Giga Texas plant in Travis County (Texas), USA.

In 2017, Tesla had announced that it would start manufacturing the Semi by 2019 and commence customer deliveries in 2019. The company wasn’t able to meet the scheduled SOP timeline in 2019. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, and then the semiconductor chip shortage further crippled the auto industry.

Tesla’s Q2 2021 earnings report stated that production would start in 2022 because of the limited availability of battery cells. During a shareholder meeting in October 2021, Musk revealed that the production is facing another delay and would “hopefully” start in 2023. At the Tesla Cyber Rodeo event on April 7, 2022, he confidently said that the Semi will enter production in 2023.

Cybertruck is coming next year. We’ll be in production with Cybertruck next year. We’ll be in production with the Roadster and with Semi. So that’s all coming. This year is all about scaling up and then next year there’s gonna be a massive wave of new products.

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla (Tesla Cyber Rodeo on April 7, 2022)

Large order book

Tesla seems to have a sizable order book for the Semi, and customers are eagerly waiting for deliveries. PepsiCo has pre-ordered 100 trucks, Anheuser-Busch has ordered 40 units, Walmart is awaiting 130 trucks, and Pride Group Enterprises has ordered 150 trucks. Pride Group Enterprises announced in November 2020 that they paid the booking amount to reserve initial units and build slots. The orders are just a fraction of these companies’ fleets.

PepsiCo’s statement to the United States congress subcommittee revealed that it has a fleet of 36,000 trucks, 11,000 tractors, 12,300 vans, and 8,300 service support vehicles. The brand also has over 25,000 drivers in the USA. If Tesla wants to leave a mark on just giant companies, it will have to deliver on its promises sooner than later.

PepsiCo was expecting deliveries in Q4 of 2021, CEO Ramon Laguarta said at the COP26 climate meet. According to a report by Drive Tesla Canada dated January 6, 2022, the company has installed its first 1.5 mW mega chargers at Frito-Lay’s facility in Modesto, California.

Another Tesla Semi order of a significant quantity is from Orlando-based start-up EV Semi-Fleet. The new trucking company has ordered 50 units already and says (on evsemifleetcorp.com) it plans to reserve “thousands more.” The company will lease the Semis to distribution partners with an existing base of CDL drivers. It has raised USD 1.1 million for the first 50 Semis, which it plans to use at Tampa and Jacksonville ports, as per a report from Commercial Carrier Journal.

Tesla Semi FAQs

What is the Tesla Semi release date?

The Tesla Semi should go on sale by the end of 2023.

What is the Tesla Semi price?

The base Tesla Semi will cost USD 150,000 in the 300-mile range variant and USD 180,000 in the 500-mile range variant.

Which electric semi-trucks will be Tesla Semi rivals?

The Volvo VNR Electric, Freightliner eM2, Kenworth T680E, and Peterbilt 579EV are alternatives to the Tesla Semi.

Featured image source: Tesla