Everything We Know About the Tesla Semi

By Kevin Armstrong
Tesla's Semi will revolutionize the trucking industry
Tesla's Semi will revolutionize the trucking industry
Tesla

Tesla delivered its first production Semis on December 1, 2022, to its first customer PepsiCo. It was five years in the making; Elon Musk first introduced this idea to the world on December 14, 2017. With deliveries officially taking place, the Tesla Semi is on the right track to change the trucking industry and in the words of Musk: This is going to revolutionize the road, make the world a better place in a meaningful way.

The Semi Beginning

Elon Musk first mused about the Tesla Semi in his Master Plan Part Deux, which appeared on the company website on July 20, 2016. Under the header: Expand to Cover the Major Forms of Terrestrial Transport, the CEO went further than sedans and SUVs. "There are two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport.

Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year (2017)," wrote Musk. He also added, "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."

However, you could trace the Semi back even further. At the delivery event, Musk reminded everyone of the Tesla mission, “Our actual mission is to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. So that is why we are making this wide range of cars that don’t really make sense from a brand standpoint traditionally, but makes total sense when you consider what is the mission of the company.”

The company stated there are 15 million passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. every year, but only a couple hundred thousand big rigs. But that small percentage of long haulers makes up 20 percent of U.S. vehicle emissions because they are large vehicles that are always being used. Musk also pointed out that more than one-third of articulate emissions are produced by semi-trucks.

Tri-motors and a 1,000-volt Powertrain

When Musk introduced the Tesla Semi in 2017, he compared it to current semi-trucks on the road today and to a $2 million supercar, the Bugatti Chiron. The first features the CEO talked about were performance, but not just any performance.

Instead, Tesla referred to it as BAMF Performance. I'll let you figure out the acronym. While the appearance alone will make the Semi a standout at truck stops, it's the performance that will change the trucking industry.

The Semi was initially going to have four independent motors; however, when delivered it was down to a tri-motor system, similar to the Model S Plaid. But don’t let that fool you. Senior Manager of Tesla’s Semi Engineering, Dan Priestley, explained why many people refer to the Semi as the beast.

“(It has) three times the power than any diesel truck on the road right now. So, you’ve got all the power you need to get the job done, but the other reason that it’s a beast is because it is efficient, you can go 500 miles on a single charge on one of these things. It’s the mix of those two - this is a game-changer. What’s awesome is both of those are enabled by our 1000-volt powertrain. This is the first vehicle we are doing with that.”

Tri-Motors and a Clutch

The tri-motor power train system has one motor that will carry the load the majority of the time, as it’s mainly for highway driving. That efficiency motor is approximately the size of a football. The other two are for torque and acceleration. Those motors use the system straight out of the Model S Plaid powertrain except the Semi can physically disengage two motors when they're not in use.

Tesla introduced a clutch that will automatically engage or disengage the two performance motors. According to Tesla, the clutch will automatically engage the performance motors when needed and it'll do it completely seamlessly. Instead of having the motors moving freely when not in use like the Model S Plaid, disengaging them results in even better efficiency. Priestly said, “These are clutched automatically, no driver input is needed. It is seamless.”

Semi Performance

Tesla Semi achieves 0 to 60 MPH in 5 seconds (20 seconds under a full load)
Tesla Semi achieves 0 to 60 MPH in 5 seconds (20 seconds under a full load)
Not a Tesla App

Musk commented on the Semi’s performance, “It looks crazy, it looks like an elephant moving like a cheetah.” When it was launched it was promoted as reaching 60 miles per hour in five seconds without a load. It can also reach 60 miles per hour fully loaded with the maximum 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight in 20 seconds. As for up a hill with the full weight, current diesel trucks achieve 45 miles per hour at a 5% grade; the Tesla Semi will do 65 miles per hour at the same degree.

Semi Range and Efficiency

While the speed and acceleration are undoubtedly impressive and a considerable improvement over the current diesel trucks on the road, the range is the industry's most important factor. Tesla states that its Semis have a 500-mile range at maximum gross vehicle weight and highway speeds. This number is significant because 80% of trucking routes are 250 miles or less. "You can deliver a load out to the middle of nowhere and come back," said Musk.

It seems that this claim was the most in dispute. Bill Gates openly doubted the range in a blog post dated August 24, 2020. The Gates Notes stated: Even with big breakthroughs in battery technology, electric vehicles will probably never be a practical solution for things like 18-wheelers, cargo ships, and passenger jets. Electricity works when you need to cover short distances, but we need a different solution for heavy, long-haul vehicles.

Tesla set out to prove him wrong. They recorded an entire, unedited video of the Tesla Semi traveling 500 miles on a single charge. Luckily, they speed up the eight-hour video to a few seconds for the presentation, but it did show a long haul, with 82,000 pounds, going from Fremont to San Diego.

There are several advanced technologies at work to make this happen. The Semi's current efficiency is about 1.7kWh per mile, but Musk sees a way to make it even more efficient.

"We designed the Tesla truck to be like a bullet, whereas normal diesel trucks are designed more like a barn wall; this is a bullet," said the Tesla CEO. The Semi can generate the performance and the range due to the design. The drag coefficient or wind resistance of the regular diesel trucks is a .65 to .70. The Tesla Semi scores a 0.36, cutting the regular diesel truck drag in half and even beating the Bugatti Chiron score of .38.

The sleek nose and flat bottom are accompanied by side flaps that adjust to the trailer. These features help cut the drag and increase the range.

Charging the Semi

The Semi will be capable of charging much faster than ordinary EVs
The Semi will be capable of charging much faster than ordinary EVs
Tesla

Tesla nearly upstaged the Semi delivery by announcing what will be charging it. The new V4 Superchargers are capable of producing 1 MW DC. Musk explained, “to charge a truck like this quickly you need a high-powered charger. It’s our next-generation immersive cooling. It’s liquid-cooled, so you don’t need like a gigantic elephant truck of a cable, you can actually have a small cable, and that cable delivers a megawatt… We’ve 3x-ed the current density.”

Priestley, went further into detail, “This is pretty cool stuff. You’re actually immersing the conductor in the coolant. This water-based coolant that we have, we are doing some really neat isolation monitoring on the back end to ensure that it is safe and delivering what it needs to. But it means that we can really shove a lot of current in a very, very small place. So, for those who have charged their cars at a V3 Supercharger and the cable’s nice and maneuverable, it’s the same thing here, but now we’re just shoving a megawatt through it instead.”

Tesla wants the Semi to go from empty to 70 percent in 30 minutes. That time is vital to note because, in most jurisdictions, drivers must stop every six hours for a 30-minute break. The company says that the Semi will have added 400 miles in half an hour, which can last another six hours. Additionally, these chargers will be at destinations that would allow owners to charge the Semi while it is being loaded or unloaded.

Tesla Semi Unveiling

Displays and Software

The Semi's interior is most similar to the Model 3 or Model Y.

The Semi lacks an instrument cluster but features two horizontal displays, one to either side of the driver.

The right display appears to contain the traditional launcher we have in today's Teslas with access to music, phone, cabin temperature and more, while the left display contains truck-specific features at the bottom, such as tire PSI, trailer air supply and parking brake functions.

Although the software can be changed at any point, the best way to describe the vehicle's current software is to compare it to a Model 3/Y.

The Semi essentially takes the display of the Model 3 or Model Y, and splits it down the middle then puts those items on two separate displays.

The left display contains the speedometer, gear selector, battery indicators and the vehicle's visualization.

The Semi's interior features two horizontal displays
The Semi's interior features two horizontal displays
Tesla

The right portion of the display on a Model 3 which includes information such as maps and apps is displayed on the Semi's right display.

However, Tesla isn't taking up the entire display with these features. About one-third of each display appears to be reserved for always-on blind spot camera monitors.

Battery

Although Tesla hasn't released the exact size of the batteries in the Tesla Semi, they have released enough information for us to accurately assess its size.

Tesla has said that the Semi will achieve an efficiency of less than 2 kWh per mile (1.24 kWh per km). Tesla has also said that the Semi will have a range of approximately 300 or 500 miles.

With these two bits of information, we can speculate that the Semi will be available in two versions. A "Long Range" model that will have approximately a 1,000 kWh, or 1 MWh battery, and a "Standard" version with about a 600 kWh battery.

For comparison, a 2022 Model S contains a 100 kWh battery, so the Tesla Semi will have a significantly larger battery at 6x to 10x the size of its smaller cousin.

Having a larger battery will allow the Semi to charge faster than Tesla's current models since the current can be spread across more batteries.

The first Tesla Semi trucks will use the 2170 battery cell; the same one that is used in the Tesla Model 3 and the Model Y. However, it's expected the Tesla will eventually switch over to use their 4680 batteries once production improves.

Safety

The Semi comes with the same safety features as Tesla's existing vehicles, the same kind of standards that have earned Tesla countless accolades. The Semi has Enhanced Autopilot, Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping and Forward Collision Warning.

The company also believes that moving the driver seat to the middle of the vehicle makes the Semi safer if it is involved in a crash. It has a low center of gravity due to the battery pack's location at the bottom and middle of the vehicle. That is the same as current Teslas, reducing the vehicle's chance of rolling over. "Jackknifing is impossible," declared Musk. He said that due to the independent motors, the Semi would detect a jackknifing situation and adjust the torque to the wheels needed to keep the vehicle from skidding out of control. "Your worst nightmare is gone with this truck. Gone. You never have to worry about it."

Driver Experience

When it comes to the experience of driving a Tesla Semi, Musk summed it up best, "it's like driving a Model S or X or 3. It's just big." Today, big trucks on the roads can have anywhere from 10 to 18 gears . That's a lot of shifting. Operators of the Tesla Semi need to simply shift into drive. It's a lot less fatiguing and lets truckers focus more on the road.

The driver's seat is in the center of the expansive cockpit that is also tall enough that someone can stand in it. The videos and pictures have failed to show the sleeper cab portion of the vehicle. However, there is a significant amount of room behind the cockpit to house a sleeping area.

Reliability

At the unveiling, Musk made a shocking promise; he guaranteed that the Semi will not break down for a million miles. He was confident in that number because of the independent drivetrains. If one motor stops working, the others can pick up the slack. Musk said if just two of the motors were active, the Semi would still beat a diesel truck in performance.

Trucks put brakes to the test because they haul so much weight. But, again, like other Teslas, the brakes will be used as generators and put back energy into the battery. "Brake pads literally last forever," said Musk. Removing the internal combustion engine also means no transmission to maintain, emissions scrubber or differentials.

The Semi has thermonuclear explosion glass. Musk quipped, "it survives a nuclear explosion, or you get a full refund." He pointed out that, on average, semi-trucks' windshields crack at least once a year. Trucks are not legally allowed to drive with a cracked windshield in several areas worldwide. That means a single crack could park a trucker for an undetermined amount of time waiting to get fixed. The Tesla armored glass takes away that risk.

Just like other Teslas, the app will be available for the Semi. That feature includes remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, location tracking, and connection to Tesla Mobile Service.

Cost of Ownership

The Semi can be charged while the vehicle is loaded or unloaded
The Semi can be charged while the vehicle is loaded or unloaded
Tesla

Trucking is a unique business. The costs are difficult to predict mainly due to the fluctuations in the cost of diesel and maintenance. When the Semi was unveiled in 2017, the diesel fuel price per gallon was $2.50; Five years later, it has more than doubled.

Tesla estimates that operators will save approximately $200,000 over three years because electricity is 2.5 times cheaper per mile. There will also be considerable savings by not having to leave the truck in the shop for routine maintenance and less time off the road for cracked windshields.

Aerodynamics and Drag Coefficient

The Tesla Semi has a drastically lower drag coefficient compared to other trucks
The Tesla Semi has a drastically lower drag coefficient compared to other trucks
Tesla

The Semi's aerodynamics produce even bigger cost savings if they operate in convoy. It's estimated a three-truck convoy averaging 60 miles per hour would cost $0.85 per mile. That price not only beats diesel trucks but also trains.

The Tesla Semi has a drag coefficient of just 0.36. This helps reduce wind noise and improve efficiency. A traditional diesel semi truck has a drag coefficient range between 0.65 and 0.70, while a Buggatti Chiron has a coefficient of 0.38. For comparison the Tesla Model 3, one of the most aerodynamics vehicles ever created, has a coefficient of 0.23.

Buyers

Big name companies were some of the first to put down a deposit. Walmart ordered 130 Semis, UPS purchased 125, Pepsi is waiting for 100, Anheuser Busch asked for 40, and FedEx has reserved 20.

Other names reported to have bought the Semi include Sysco, DHL, Ryder and Loblaws. It's believed that several independent truckers have also secured the Semi. Obviously, Tesla is using its Semi. The attention-grabbing technological breakthrough has been spotted delivering Tesla products to dealerships in California.

A Megacharger has been installed at the Pepsi facility in California as well. Expect more companies to jump on board as these impressive beasts start to be spotted on highways worldwide.

While Tesla has closed reservations, buyers in the United States may be lining up to get in once Tesla starts retaking orders. The Inflation Reduction Act announced in July could net Tesla Semi buyers upwards of $40,000 in incentives.

Tesla to Add ‘Avoid Highways’ Option to Navigation

By Karan Singh
Not a Tesla App

Elon Musk recently confirmed on a livestream that Tesla will add a feature to avoid highways in its navigation options.

Avoid Highways has been an often-requested feature from Tesla owners, as most other navigation services, including Google and Apple Maps, and 3rd party GPS devices, include such an option.

Avoid Highways

The avoid highways feature will be useful for many drivers, who prefer to take inner-city or country roads to their destinations. This option will most likely sit right next to the current “Avoid Tolls” option that’s already available in the navigation settings.

Tesla leverages various Google APIs for their navigation system, including map tiles, satellite imagery, traffic and points of interest. However, routing is developed in-house so that Tesla can choose energy efficient routes, as well as account for charging stops.

Tesla’s navigation system typically chooses highway routes due to being the fastest route, however, Tesla does show up to two alternate routes when a new destination is entered.

Owners have previously used workarounds like adding secondary stops off-highway or planning their route through a third-party interface like Google Maps to ensure they’re not on highways.

Avoiding highways can also help drivers find scenic, new, or unique routes that would otherwise be missing. This is an excellent option for semi-rural areas as well, where highways often run side-by-side or in the same general direction as country roads, minus the scenic features. Additionally, many young or old drivers are often uncomfortable with merging on and off highways for short trips.

Release Date

This feature is probably a little while away given that Elon Musk only confirmed it recently and Tesla needs to develop it themselves instead of just turning using it in Google’s API.

In the meantime, you can add stops along your route to force a path you’d like to take or use Google or Apple Maps on your phone.

Tesla’s Forgotten Market – Canada

By Karan Singh
Ian M | LinkedIn

Tesla’s primary market is North America, with China close behind. One could argue that their primary market is actually the United States – not so much all of North America.

Canada sits as the forgotten red-headed stepchild of Tesla’s North American market. Let’s shine some light on the maple leaf for a moment and see what’s missing or what they have missed out on.

Subscriptions and FSD

Subscriptions have been a big one for Canada. Only recently, in April – was Canada allowed to Subscribe to FSD for the first time. The Canadian price equivalent for FSD at the time was $18,000 CAD before tax – nearly $21,000 CAD after tax. This was after the initial $3,000 CAD price drop in 2023.

With FSD becoming a subscription, it became massively more accessible for Canadians. But Canada did get one win on that front. The price for FSD Subscription in Canada isn’t at US-price equivalent – it’s $99 CAD, which is approximately $72 USD! A small victory for not having access to FSD subscriptions since its introduction in the U.S. in 2021.

Even FSD beta itself wasn’t initially available to Canadians – despite NHTSA, USDOT, Transport Canada, and CANDOT having many of the same regulations for homologation. FSD Beta only came to Canada in 2022, a full year after the American release. Even then, access was primarily restricted to early access testers and influences. The full Canadian rollout began in late 2022.

But that’s not all. If Canadians want to use Tesla’s Premium Connectivity – for now they must still subscribe month-to-month. There is no yearly subscription (which is available in the US, with a slight discount). A small gripe, but just another odd example of the lack of standardization.

Cybertruck

Cybertruck still isn’t available to Canadian pre-order holders. Much of this has been attributed to regulatory issues in getting Cybertruck approved by Transport Canada to be on Canadian roads.

Tesla Cybertruck Program Manager Siddhant Awasthi mentioned on X that as Tesla gets confidence in estimated delivery dates to Canada, they intend to open up the configurator like they did in the US. However, he didn’t provide any estimate in terms of timelines or anything else.

We believe the delays to be regulatory – there is no regulation or standardization for vehicles with steer-by-wire in Canada. It’s worth noting that when Tesla filed its patent for steer-by-wire in the US and Canada, Canada did not begin regulatory processes to approve it. Of interest is the fact that Transport Canada has generally shown to be faster than NHTSA in approving new technologies – adaptive high beams and headlights rules have been available in Canada since early 2018.

Transport Canada vehicle approvals require hand-over-hand maneuvers, which currently isn’t available on the Cybertruck since it leverages a steer-by-wire system that automatically adjusts the steering ratio depending on speed. However, a software update could likely make it compliant in Canada, although it would lose one of the biggest advantages of a steer-by-wire system. It’s possible Transport Canada could also make an exception to changing its ruling.

Models S and X – the Luxury Tax

The Model S and X, and in the future, the Cybertruck – cost over $100,000 CAD. This means that they’re impacted by Canada’s Luxury Vehicle Tax. The luxury tax adds the lesser amount of two values, either the amount over $100,000 of the list price multiplied by 20% or the total list price multiplied by 10%.

In the case of the Long Range Model X, with no additions, this is an additional $2,000 CAD. If you were to add in FSD and a non-standard paint color, it would be $4,860 CAD. The Plaid Model X tops it off with a brutal $9,060 CAD tax on the final purchase price. This is all without changing the default seats, wheels, and yoke/steering wheel.

At one point, for a short period of three weeks, Tesla offered the Model S and Model X in a Standard Range+ package. This package was listed at just below the $100,000 mark, even if you added in a different color. Tesla then offered a post-sale software upgrade to unlock the vehicle to the regular Long Range version for any customers interested.

Once again, Canadians would love to see the SR+ variants return to Canada, even if it was just to dodge the Luxury Vehicles Tax. It’s a pretty sizeable amount for even the base Model S or Model X, and this could open up the market to people not wanting to get impacted by the tax.

Discounts and Offerings

Tesla has recently offered quite a few inventory discounts, direct price discounts, and even favorable financing for both purchases and leasing. Sadly, very few of these demand levers have been pulled in the Canadian market, leaving Canadians bewildered as to why the “Tesla North America” account on X promotes these deals.

As of the first week of June, the Tesla account started mentioning that these benefits are US-only. Sometimes inventory discounts and direct price changes do make their way to Canada, but they’re usually several weeks late, and last for only as long as the US promotion. In one specific case, a Canadian inventory price reduction lasted for under 72 hours, as the US one began nearly two weeks earlier, and ended on its third week.

We’d love to see Tesla improve its offerings in Canada – especially ensuring to match vehicle pricing changes in both markets and hopefully also begin offering favorable financing terms alongside them. Canada’s interest rates are in lockstep with the United States for the most part – so some Canadian consumers are considering EV alternatives that have been providing better financing recently.

Tesla Insurance

Just like many US states, Tesla Insurance has no presence in Canada yet. However, unlike the United States, the Tesla Insurance link in Canada just throws an error. It used to link to Aviva Insurance’s Tesla Insurance program in 2023, but that is no longer the case.

Tesla has recently made moves in the Insurance space, picking up an Ex-GEICO executive to expand and revitalize the Tesla Insurance program. Hopefully, we will see an expansion into Canada with Tesla insurance sometimes making a big difference in the total cost of the vehicle.

Powerwall 3 and Solar Roof

This one is a bit of an oddball, as we’ve reached out to a few folks in different places in Canada and received different responses. Some Canadian submarkets are receiving Powerwall 3’s for installs, but other markets are still only receiving Powerwall 2’s, including Ontario and Quebec.

We’d like to see some standardization regarding product offerings in Canada – if you want a Powerwall 2, you should be able to get one at a cheaper price than a Powerwall 3 if available – but make sure to offer the 3 when it’s available throughout the United States without restrictions.

Solar Roof is completely unavailable in Canada. It is possible to have an American installer quote you, ship the materials, and install – but it’s obscenely expensive and a regulatory hassle in comparison to just using regular solar panels.

Service Centers and Superchargers

Tesla’s expansion of Service Centers into Canada has been an ongoing issue – with many major cities being several hours away from the nearest service center. There has been a lot of progress on this front, with smaller service centers being opened around the country – but there are only two major collision centers in Canada, one in BC, and one (coming soon), in Ontario.

Given that Tesla sold 45,000 vehicles in 2022, and nearly 55,000 in 2023, and makes up nearly 75% of the EV market, they’re the largest player in the Canadian market. Of course, those numbers pale in comparison to US-sales, with annual Canadian sales accounting for a single month’s worth of sales.

The Supercharger situation is quite similar. Canada has drastically fewer Superchargers than the US – its capital, Ottawa, is serviced by just three Supercharger sites, for a population of over 1 million people. And one of these sites is a paid parking garage.

You can use the spectacular Supercharging highway that exists to get from province to province, but going places in those provinces can be fraught with difficulties. There are also vast areas of Canada that are inaccessible to Tesla vehicles not wanting to brave CCS or L2 charging – which can be sporadic and unreliable at best.

Accessing Thunder Bay, Ontario – one of the largest ports on the Great Lakes, still requires careful planning. In Alberta, the trip from Calgary to Edmonton in the winter can be difficult – the two largest cities in the province. There are still major improvements needed between major Canadian population centers before range-conscious first-time buyers take the leap into EVs.

Canada has been ignored by Tesla for some issues, with some simple offerings like FSD subscription just becoming available in 2024, while others are still completely unavailable.

We’d love to see Tesla continue to work to bring their entire suite of offerings and features to Canada in the future, as many Canadians are already loyal Tesla fans.

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