Analyst Shoots Down Critics, Says Tesla Semi Range & Weight Not An Issue

Tesla Semi


Weight and range not really an issue, says one analyst to critics of the Tesla semi truck.

Piper Jaffray analyst Alex Potter sent a note to investors following criticism of the Tesla semi. He wrote:

“We think there is a misperception that fleets obsess over vehicle weight. Most fleets run out of space in their trailers long before they approach the 80,000-pound threshold.”

Critics suggested that an electric semi wouldn’t work due to extra battery weight, but Potter pointed out that switching to electric for a semi might add some 4,000 pounds to its weight, which is just a small drop in the bucket for a big rig.

Barron’s stated:

“While electric trucking components will add to a truck’s overall weight, Potter doesn’t see that posing a big problem. Switching to an electric drivetrain, he wrote, probably won’t add more than 4,000 pounds in weight. One criticism of Tesla’s trucking plan is that fleets, which can only haul up to 80,000 pounds per truck, won’t want the battery weight to cut into that limit, effectively reducing the available payload. But Potter says more than 80% of semis carry less than 70,000 pounds anyway.”

While weight isn’t really an issue at all, range is, sort of. A typical diesel semi can go some 1,600 miles on a full fuel load. That won’t be matched by an electric semi, says Potter. But fear not as there are tons of trucking applications that aren’t long haul. Potter stated:

“Some fleets that run fixed/visible routes can happily function with only 50-100 gallons of on-board diesel (300-600 miles of range). If Tesla focuses on medium- to long-haul fleets like this, we think the payback will be compelling.”

The big picture outlook from Potter is that electric semi truck can work and that neither weight, nor range are an issue. Other analysts support the idea that an electric Tesla semi can be a success. In fact, some analysts downgraded major truck makers right after Tesla announced its entry into the segment.

Source: Barron’s

Categories: Tesla, Trucks

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48 Comments on "Analyst Shoots Down Critics, Says Tesla Semi Range & Weight Not An Issue"

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Too many people focus on the extremes of vehicle performance as the yardstick for an EV. In reality, when you hit the 80 to 90% mark you will have a successful product.

I had two friends get in a pissing match over their new trucks and who could tow the most. One had a 10,000 pound tow rating, while the other was 8,500. They kept going back and forth until I asked “neither one of you have a boat or a camper, or even a big trailer….the biggest thing I’ve seen either one of you haul has been a sofa. Do sofas really weigh 5 tons?”

The argument ended there.

This is the same. There are a few people who will need that 80,000 pound payload, but many won’t care. That’s the target audience.

The other thing is that truck drivers do take breaks, truck stops are full of them. If Tesla is serious about this business they can deploy a supercharging network at the truck stops.

They are, in fact, required to take breaks by the NHTSA. IMHO the real play here is fully autonomous electric semis. Those can run 24×7 and no one cares that they need to stop every 100 or 200 miles, because they’ll still end up at point B faster than the human driven truck because of required breaks for food and sleep.



Good point. That does solve the major issues. Elon just announces it will be fully autonomous. It should be interesting to see his timeline. It may be sooner than most are predicting. I think he did say that tesla would demonstrate hands off coast to coast run this summer.

That is truly a golden moment, there. Thank you for sharing the story. Fleet managers could likely comment to analysts and do a lot more for their markets. How much does a full load of Target, Wal-Mart, or FedEx typically weigh?

I doubt that companies know how much each delivery weighs unless they go over interstate weigh stations. I would wager its more about time to delivery than weight.

Those companies named do know the weight. The software they use knows the weight of each package and item and uses that to calculate truck assignments.

And yet, if you drive past an 18-wheeler weighing station on the highway, you’ll almost always see more than one semi trailer sitting there, because they were found to be overweight when weighed.

That doesn’t mean Mr. Clueless… er, Mr. Potter… is wrong to say that for many or most fleets, the weight limit is never an issue. I would guess he’s right on that one point, even though he’s quite wrong on others. But the weight limit certainly is an issue in some cases, often enough to be a real problem for some fleets if not all.

Don’t be daft! Of *course* they know what they weigh! Whether it is under the limit is another matter…

It’s possible that the Tesla semi battery-electric drive train will be lighter than a diesel leaving more room for payload.

Phinergy (Israeli company) has demonstrated a 50 kg (110 lb) aluminum-air battery that extends the range of an EV by 1,600 km (1,000 miles). ALCOA is partnered to regenerate (recycle) the aluminum plates from the aluminum-hydroxide byproduct.

This would be a good match for a Tesla semi since metallic aluminum stores more energy per pound than diesel, is non-toxic, non-volatile, non-explosive, much more efficient, and almost infinite shelf life.

That would be an interesting solution to this conundrum, thanks. Perhaps Tesla will indeed pull some kind of rabbit-out-of-the-hat solution that most people doing napkin math (like me) have not foreseen.

But metal-air batteries such as the one you describe — or more properly, metal-air fuel cells, since they do use an oxygenation process to produce electricity — have one very serious flaw: Recharging them is massively inefficient, on the order of only about 33% efficiency, which means throwing away 2/3 of the electricity used to recharge the fuel cell.

Since the main advantage of a BEV semi tractor over a diesel tractor is the lower cost of electricity vs. diesel fuel, throwing away 2/3 of the electricity isn’t a good strategy. That would in effect triple the cost of the electricity.

I’ve been saying this for a while. Some applications don’t need to meet the weight limit and if the truck. Fuel is a huge cost and cutting that will save a lot of money.

Also, given the regulations in the US for scheduling, there is room to charge 2-3 hours every day for long haul truckers (they can only drive 11 out of a 14 hour shifts).

“(they can only drive 11 out of a 14 hour shifts)”

I thought they had drivers that work in teams so they can drive 24 hours/day??

That once again is probably working to the extreme corner of the issue, there must a huge number of trucks that don’t have a “team” of drivers all possible targets for Tesla.

OK, so add TWO salaries to the cost of a diesel rig.

Exactly. Yes, some semi trucks do use teams of two drivers, so the truck can keep going almost 24 hours a day. But not many, because then you have to pay two trucker salaries, or if they’re independent truckers, they have to support two truckers and their families on the revenue from a single truck.

There are no chargers and not even required electric capacity at every random load/unload ramp in every random warehouse. Truck length and other dimensions are also limited even if you don’t reach weight limit.

Technically it may work for certain fleets that go on fixed routes only to warehouses owned by the same company. But it would take significant planning and organizational effort, and it is not clear if it would make sense economically.

“Technically it may work for certain fleets that go on fixed routes only to warehouses owned by the same company. But it would take significant planning and organizational effort, and it is not clear if it would make sense economically.” All perfectly true. Perhaps even more important, economically, is the cost of battery replacement. I have yet to see an analysis of long-range BEV semi trucks which takes that into account. But there is a reason why UPS and FedEx and Wal*Mart and other large trucking fleets have not switched over to BEV trucks, and I’m pretty sure economics is the reason. “Truck length and other dimensions are also limited even if you don’t reach weight limit.” Space required for the battery pack isn’t an issue. Take a typical long-nose semi tractor, remove the large diesel engine, transmission, and all the Rube Goldberg accessories for the engine that are no longer needed (such as the exhaust system and muffler), and you’ve got plenty of room for a large battery pack. Math shown below, in case there is any doubt, in my “napkin math 1.0″ analysis, as it’s been dubbed by others: * * * * * * * * *… Read more »

Tesla abandoned the battery swap idea for cars due to concerns with how the battery had been used in the past. You might get a poorly maintained battery pack and run into issues. Also these batteries would need to be huge, I can’t imagine just swapping them is an easy task

we will probably find out at the reveal whether or not Tela’s electric semi is just a concept or a serious offering for sale.

Personally I don’t think it will be just a concept truck. Others here have stated otherwise.

I think Elon is going to put in dedicated superchargers for their trucks and offer free supercharging to sweeten the deal.

goerge, make that Megachargers or Hyperchargers….


I don’t think the Tesla Semi will have, or need, free supercharging. The Model S gets about 300 watt-hours per mile; if we assume the Semi gets five times worse efficiency (just spit-balling; existing Semis get about 5 or 6 mpg)then we have a 750 kWh battery for a 500 mile range. Even US $0.20 per kWh gives a US $150.00 cost to refill and US $0.30 fuel cost per mile — far, far (~40%)less than current fossil fuel trucks. Tesla can make money from Supercharging while slashing costs for fleet operators, which is a win-win. There are, however, no indications that Tesla will charge anywhere near that much per kWh for Supercharging.

“I don’t think the Tesla Semi will have, or need, free supercharging.”

I think we have to wait till September to know for sure but I think this may be something pretty exiting.

“Personally I don’t think it will be just a concept truck. Others here have stated otherwise.” Well, in previous discussions I “got out over my skis” and confidently (overconfidently) stated it would be just a concept vehicle. But recently, Elon Musk said it was easy to build, and said they’d be doing it in-house rather than partnering with an existing semi tractor builder. So at this point, I admit I have no idea just what we’ll see from Tesla. It could be that what Tesla will show will only be a “yard mule” tractor, which would indeed be easy to build; there’s no need for streamlining on a low-speed vehicle. Plus, there’s already an established market for BEV “yard mule” semi tractors. Or perhaps it will indeed be the long-range, highway-capable BEV truck that every true EV fan dreams of. My “napkin math 1.0” analysis is based on some very specific assumptions, and Tesla may be using different assumptions. Or it may be something in between; perhaps the 200-300 mile “short haul” trucking market that was suggested early on, before Elon said that range would not be an issue for the truck. Perhaps Elon plans to get around the range… Read more »

Good article. The media likes to focus on long haul drivers, but a good percentage of truck mileage is on local and medium haul routes. Daily routes, regional warehouses, etc.

Our family biz had a fleet of 30 trucks doing daily delivery. Most routes were under 150 miles, probably averaging 50. A few routes were up to 300 miles. We worked very hard to make them efficient, routing and planning is serious business.

If Tesla can lower total cost of ownership, and increase reliability, they will absolutely succeed. Fleet managers don’t think like consumers.

I need to stress the reliability and maintenance part. Diesel tractors take a ton of regular maintenance. And breaking down is simply not an option. Getting electric trucks to handle industrial levels of use at a reliability level comparable to diesel is no easy task. These big diesels have had many decades to refine every single part on the truck.

Get after it Tesla, this is a big market that you can succeed at. But none of the falcon-wing door type hubris will cut it in any way shape or form in this market.

“but Potter pointed out that switching to electric for a semi might add some 4,000 pounds to its weight,”

Not sure he came up with that number. Looks optimistic to me.

PMPU had some decent napkin math on the weight and came up with 17,300 lbs for 1800 kwh battery. Then we had an article speculating that the battery might be 1200 kwh

If we correct PMPU’s numbers to 1200 kwh battery then we get a weight of around 10,000 lbs more for the electric semi

You could probably subtract the net loss of weight for the rest of the lighter EV powertrain once you replace the diesel engine, transmission and tanks, etc. from that 10,000 lb. battery gain.

4 x 200 hp Model 3 motors will weigh a lot less than a 3,000 lb. diesel big rig engine. From what I could find the front motor in the Tesla S weighs something like 70 lbs. by itself and the beefier rear motor with inverter weighs 350 lbs. So 4 Model 3 motors will weigh probably 1,000 lbs. or less for a savings of around 2,000 lbs.

It obviously wouldn’t get down to 4,000 lbs. but it will be some number less than 10,000 lbs.

I factored in the reduced weight from removing the diesel engine, and also the weight of fuel. See my “napkin math” analysis posted above, for details.

But my numbers are not set in stone. The estimate (by someone else) of 1200 kWh & 600 miles may well be closer to what Tesla will use than my own estimate of 1800 kWh & 750 miles. My analysis was not specifically aimed at Tesla’s BEV semi, but intended as a more general analysis. We can expect Tesla to have superior streamlining, which will almost certainly reduced the needed battery pack size (for a given distance) by some amount; maybe a little, maybe a lot.

wonder how much a large 14L cummins weighs with a full tank of fuel…getting close to 4000lbs? probably, so no real biggie on drive-train, besides if the truck is aluminum and plastic instead of steel and plastic weight savings will occur there as well.

and yes a truck driver can’t drive more than 10 hours a day which would be around 600-700 miles max with no stops, then they have to take a 10 hour break which should be more than enough to fill a battery with a level 3 charger, don’t even need a supercharger…

“wonder how much a large 14L cummins weighs with a full tank of fuel…getting close to 4000lbs?”

That’s pretty close to what was used in the 10,000 lb extra weight number in the post above.

However that 10,000 lb weight number doesn’t include any weight savings for the aluminum construction. So perhaps we can do better than 10,000 lbs.

Also, please do not forget to account for the weight of the transmission. Tesla uses very simple, reliable, and relatively light single-speed gearing. I believe that modern Semi trucks have transmissions over 1000 pounds.

It’s not just the gross weight of 80,000 lbs. It is also where that weight is located. There is an axle weight limit too. You can be hauling 60,000 pounds total weight which is under the gross limit but if one or more of the axles is carrying too much of that weight you are still overweight.

Surely if all the additional weight is in the tractor unit and per axle weight is going to be an issue you simply have an extra axle?

Analyst is wrong. Ignoring the network aspect of trucking. Just because 80% of loads may be light enough doesn’t mean you just turn down the other 20%.

The analysts mean Tesla can exclusively target fleets that operate their own trucks and trailers.

Just think of it this way, Tesla is targeting the leaders that can begin using such trucks today, and they won’t be able to produce enough for ALL Buyers of Semis for some time, anyway!

Even though Tesla is Kicking But in the Premium Sedan Market, does not mean they have it all to themselves, even after almost 5 years of Model S production! So the same could be the coming case with the Tesla Semi!

Tesla in no way has to solve ALL the Trucking Challenges for ALL Trucking Companies, to make a big dent in Diesel Semi Truck Sales, and put big Pressure on the prime Semi Brands to start making high value PHEV Semi’s!

If you add a 100 kWh battery and a couple 300+ Hp Electric Motors to a current Semi, you can get easier shifting, all electric short Local Driving with easy long distance fuel access right off, and if Kenworth, MAC, Mercedes-Benz, and others respond to this pressure with decent PHEV Trucks, that also will be a good result!

If any of them shoot to bring their own BEV Semi, in direct Competition to the Tesla Semi, Elon Still Wins!

If you look at current PHEV busses, that only travel locally, it shows, that the savings are not so great as expected. Although the price is almost as high as for a BEV bus.
The big advantage in PHEV is driving locally emissions free.But with the busses even that is not working, so I don’t see any benefit in adding weight and complexity to a semi. That might be the reason why there is no real PHEV semi on the market.

Tesla would never even be able to produce enough units to hit 20% of the market in the first 10 years, after the first 10 years EV technology will have probably solved most of the problems affecting the last 20% anyway, certainly in another 20 years they will.
The question is not can Tesla repalce almost every new truck going onto the road with their first model, the question is will that model be successful and over the long term can any EV truck replace every new truck, the answer to that is probably yes.

All things being equal, the battery weight and range could pose a problem.

All things will not be equal. Once level 3,4,5 automation is in place, .. EV trucks will make a lot more sense.


I could see a lot of highway freight being shifted over to rail once highly automated intermodal terminals connecting to automated EV trucks are in place.

Has anyone considered what would happen if Tesla connected with any Semi Truck Making Company, and provided them a start in the Electric Semi Market?

Just like Tesla made the first Electric Smarts for Mercedes-Benz, and Now, MB will sell ONLY Electric Smarts in the US & Canada, for the 2018 model year and, I suspect, for all years going forward.

Elon already said they were making the Tesla BEV semi tractor in-house, not partnering with an existing truck manufacturer.

But either way, the real question is whether or not Tesla can convince any trucking fleet operator that it makes economic sense to buy their BEV tractors. Clearly at present, large trucking fleets such as UPS and FedEx and Wal*Mart and others, don’t think it makes sense, or they would already have started switching over. Can Tesla pull a rabbit out of the hat? Or will they only show a concept vehicle? Or will Tesla make only a niche market vehicle, such as a “yard mule” BEV semi, despite Elon’s bold claims about better range than a diesel semi?

We’ll have to wait and see.

The thing is, I am sure, that the fleet operators are looking into everthing that can save them money. But, since none of the existing vendors are offering BEV trucks or semis,no operator can buy one.

And they are not Deutsche Post/DHL, who have started their own e-eltric delivery car company because no vendor would sell them a fitting car. Up to now there are already 2500 Streetscooter roaming the streets of Europe and they are aiming to sell it to third parties.

So I think there is the same problem in the semi market. As long as there is nobody selling them, nobody can buy.

As long as the companies make enough money with selling standard diesel semi and nobody, like legislation is forcing them to change, they will continue to do so. The market needs interruption, like the car market did. And if not Tesla who else might be a good interrupptor? 😉

To quote Bugs Bunny: “What a maroon!” Piper Jaffray analyst Alex Potter, aka “Mr. Clueless,” obviously missed the fact that Elon claimed the Tesla BEV Semi will have better range than a diesel semi. To repeat what I’ve said many times, my “Napkin Math 1.0”, as it has been dubbed by others, targets 750 miles of range, and an estimated additional weight of estimated ~17,300 lbs. That’s 21.6% of our maximum weight limit of 80,000 lbs. Tesla might (probably will) improve on my figure a bit by using improved streamlining, but to reduce that by a significant amount, Tesla will have to resort to some kind of range extension strategy such as battery swapping, or fast-charging during a lunch break at a specially built BEV truck stop. Now, Mr. Potter might well have a point when he says most fleets run out of room in the trailer long before hitting the weight limit. Assuming that’s true — and since I’ve worked in a loading dock, it sounds right — then it may well be that the additional weight would not greatly restrict the market for a hypothetical long-range BEV semi tractor. But when Mr. Potter — that is, Mr. Clueless… Read more »

My analysis (below) gives about a 15000lb battery for 700 miles range at 55 mph.

More interestingly, in Europe, truck drivers are required to take a 45 minute break every 4.5 hours. At 55MPH you would only get about 250 miles done so a battery of 6000lb (2.7T) would suffice (assuming you could recharge it in the usual Tesla 45 minutes).

If such ‘health & safety’ regs don’t exist in the US yet, I’m sure they soon will.

I gather a ‘big rig’ is lucky to get 5MPG at 55MPH. Let’s assume Tesla’s engineers manage to half the drag at 55MPH and end up with a truck that can get 10MPG (for interest…

There is ~38kWh of energy in one USG of diesel. A modern large diesel engine gets about 40% efficiency, So at 55MPH our truck is getting 38kWh x 0.4/10 miles = 1500Wh/mile.

A Model S 85 has a 1200lb battery which has 85kWh of energy or 14lb/kWh.

So our 700 mile range e-truck would need 700 miles x 1.5kWh/mile x 14lb/kWh = 14,700lb of battery.