Tesla Semi: Everything we know in September 2022

Update: ‘Spotted Testing’ sub-section of ‘Production & Release Date’ updated.

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. However, it’s not carrying that feature into production, as seen in the new official pictures used in this story.

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.

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.

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, at the Tesla Semi & Roadster unveil in 2017.
2023 Tesla Semi front
The smooth surfacing makes the Tesla Semi highly aerodynamic. Image: Tesla

Specifications

Initially, Tesla planned to launch the Semi with four motors on rear axles. However, sometime in August 2022, a revision on the official website indicated that Tesla will offer a tri-motor powertrain at launch and the originally announced quad-motor powertrain as an option at a later stage. We assume that the company made this change to advance the EV’s start of production.

A Semi tri-motor fully loaded at 82,000 lbs gross combination weight takes 20 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. It can attain highway speeds up a 5% gradient. A Semi quad-motor with 80,000 lbs also takes 20 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. Without the payload, the Semi quad-motor could accelerate like a mid-range sports car with a 0-60 mph time of just around 5 seconds. According to the brand’s presentation, a regular diesel truck takes 15 seconds. Moreover, the Semi quad-motor can drive up to speeds of 60 mph up a 5% gradient.

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 powertrains to produce four-digit torque figures.

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 in both tri-motor and quad-motor variants, one that provides 300 miles of range and one that delivers 500 miles. The energy consumption will be incredibly low in both variants – 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.

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, 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.

2023 Tesla Semi front three quarter dynamic
At launch, Tesla will offer a tri-motor powertrain in the Semi. Image: Tesla

Fast-charging the Semi tri-motor to 70% SoC takes 30 minutes, which is enough for the driver to take a short break and refresh but not unnecessarily long. However, no motoring journalists or range-testing organizations have reviewed the Semi to verify the claim.

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.

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, at the Tesla Semi & Roadster unveil in 2017

Tesla Megacharger

The Tesla Semi will have a massive battery pack that would require more charging time and faster-charging speeds. However, Tesla has a solution—Megachargers. For long-distance journeys to be sustainable for truckers, the brand is building a network of Megachargers at trucking rest stops across the U.S. and Europe, as revealed in its Impact Report 2020. Since the report is over a year old, we wonder how far Tesla has come with the Megacharger network.

While creating their own charging network, Tesla and other automakers have asked the U.S. government to invest in charging infrastructure for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles like trucks and buses. These companies want the Biden administration to allocate 10% of the money for EV charging in the USD 7.5 billion-bipartisan infrastructure bill (signed in November 2021) to charging infrastructure for medium- and heavy-duty EVs. Most existing EV charging infrastructure is designed to cater to passenger models and vans, and so, the larger commercial vehicles need establishments designed as per their requirements.

The Tesla Megacharger will offer high-capacity charging, and to deal with the excessive heat generated during the process, it will feature liquid cooling. Teslarati has obtained pictures of a new version of the Megacharger and these show a thick cable (designed for the coolant to flow around the sleeves) that can handle high current loads.

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.

2023 Tesla Semi charging
Using 4680 cells would mean fewer charging stops and higher performance. Image Source: Tesla

Tesla will source 4680 cells for the Semi from Panasonic Corporation. Kazuo Tadanobu, the CEO of Panasonic Corporation’s Energy Company, talked about their 4680 cells in an 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.

According to a report from Reuters filed on June 1, 2022, Tesla has started receiving samples of the 4680 cells from Panasonic. Tadanobu has said that the company has created a large pilot line in Japan and started large-scale prototype production in May 2022. According to a newer Reuters report filed on June 3, 2022, Tadanobu has said that Panasonic Corporation is evaluating which U.S. state it will choose to manufacture the batteries comprising 4680 cells. Currently, the brand is making the pieces at the Wakayama factory in Japan. An earlier article from NHK (now taken down), claimed the company may open the U.S. battery plant for Tesla EVs in Oklahoma or Kansas.

LG Energy Solutions is also entering into the 4680 cell business. The company said in an announcement on June 13, 2022, that it plans to manufacture the new-format cells at the Ochang Plant 2 (Ochang, South Korea) and invest KRW 580 billion (USD 427 million) in the factory for the same.

On June 16, 2022, Hankyung (The Korea Economic Daily) said in a report that Tesla has approached LG Energy Solutions for sourcing 4680 cells. This report also indicated that Samsung SDI will be a supplier of the new cylindrical cells to Tesla, claiming that this company will develop Tesla-spec 4680 cells. Samsung SDI plans to install a pilot production line for 4680 cells at its Cheonan factory in South Korea and has set a target of beginning series production in 2025, as per the report.

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
Powertrain3 or 4 independent motors on rear axles
Range300 or 500 miles
Acceleration 0-60 mph (with 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.

2023 Tesla Semi interior dashboard
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? 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

2023 Tesla Semi front three quarter right side
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

Initially, when Tesla planned to offer the Semi with a quad-motor powertrain, it expected USD 150,000 (300-mile version)/USD 180,000 (500-mile version) to be the base price. The company hasn’t revealed the Semi tri-motor’s prices, but they could be slightly lower. Reservations for the Semi are on pause.

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

Production & Release Date

Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter on August 10, 2022, that Tesla Semi sales will begin by the end of 2022. The 500-mile variant will start shipping first, and the cheaper, 300-mile variant could follow when production ramps up in 2023. Volume production of Tesla’s electric truck will take place at the Giga Texas plant in Travis County (Texas), USA.

At the Semi world premiere in November 2017, Musk had said that Semi production would start in 2019. However, the company wasn’t able to meet the scheduled SOP timeline. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, and then the semiconductor chip shortage further crippled the auto industry.

In July 2021, Tesla said in its Q2 2021 earnings report released it has postponed the Semi launch to 2022 because of the limited availability of battery cells and global supply chain challenges. However, in early 2022, Tesla didn’t have hopes to launch any new model before 2023. At the Tesla Cyber Rodeo event on April 7, 2022, Musk said that the Semi will enter production in 2023. However, the circumstances have changed considerably which has led to an earlier SOP date.

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 asset-based carrier will be hiring CDL drivers to move freight for distribution centers with the Tesla Semi trucks. 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.

Spotted Testing

Tesla is using the time until the start of production to complete development and test prototypes on the roads. Test mules have often appeared on American highways, but now, the sightings are getting more frequent. On September 5, 2022, Twitter user Shoaib117A posted a video of three white Semis featuring conventional mirrors, which indicated that they were close to production, and two had a trailer hooked to them.

A previous spotting was on the 580W in California in June 2022. Instagram user baymax.tm3 has posted a video of a beige Semi, and this clip is available to view on Tesla Owners Silicon Valley’s Twitter channel as well.

A Reddit user posted a spy shot of a Tesla Semi test mule on May 19, 2022. A key element to note is that the Semi seen in Mountain View, California, had regular outside rear-view mirrors. Previously, prototypes were seen with the digital rear-view mirrors with a camera positioned behind the door, but the latest test mule spotted does not get this feature. The latest official Tesla Semi pictures have confirmed that the customer delivery units will ship with regular ORVMs.

As an EV enthusiast, Timothy Williamson was excited to spot two Tesla Semis on the highway near Donner Lake. He shared a video of the trucks on Twitter, where commenters speculated that they might be headed to PepsiCo’s Modesto site. Since the vehicles were heading west, it’s likely that they were indeed bound for the large food and beverage company’s distribution center.

Tesla is using every available opportunity to keep the public interested in this game-changing product. The company is promoting the electric semi truck at various events in 2022. In the mid-June 2022, it brought a white-colored Semi at the Michigan International Speedway when 20 of its sponsored student EV teams competed in the Formula SAE races. The company shared snippets from the event on its Instagram page, some of which included clips of the Semi.

Tesla Semi FAQs

What is the Tesla Semi release date?

The Tesla Semi, produced in Texas, will go on sale by the end of 2022.

What is the Tesla Semi price?

The Tesla Semi quad-motor 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