What’s Tesla’s Plan For Its Upcoming Electric Semi?

Tesla Semi Rendered By Peisert Design

AUG 21 2017 BY EVANNEX 42


A teaser image of the forthcoming Tesla semi truck


Tesla’s electric Class 8 semi truck is due to be unveiled in September, and rumors are flying about how it’s going to work. It seems obvious that a long-haul truck would need a gargantuan battery pack – could battery swapping/leasing be a solution? Will autonomy be part of the picture?

Tesla Semi Rendered By Peisert Design

Tesla Semi Rendered By Peisert Design

Two Morgan Stanley analysts see battery leasing as a potential $750-billion-per-year business, a win-win both for Tesla and the trucking industry.

“We believe [Tesla] could sell its autonomous, electric semis without batteries, which would then be separately leased to customers,” wrote analysts Adam Jonas and Ravi Shanker in a research note (as reported by Electrek). “With a ~250-300 mile range, these batteries could then be swapped out at battery swapping stations… built at Tesla Supercharging stations and truck stops around the country.”

Battery swapping is not a new idea – it seemed quite promising back in the days when EV ranges were short and public charging stations were rare. The Israeli startup Better Place, founded in 2007, made swapping a centerpiece of its strategy. Alas, it wasn’t able to generate the necessary support from automakers, and the company went belly-up in May 2013.

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Matt Pressman.

Above: An older video demo of the Better Place battery swap concept (Youtube: btrplc)

That very same month, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would offer a battery swap option for Model S, which was actually designed to accommodate battery swapping from the beginning (Musk claimed that Better Place founder Shai Agassi got the idea from a visit to Tesla). Tesla demonstrated a 90-second battery swap at a gala event, and proposed a “pack swap” program as a premium service for travelers in a hurry.

However, as the Supercharger network grew, interest in swapping waned. The company finally opened a pilot swap station in late 2014, midway between LA and San Francisco. However, at a June 2015 shareholder meeting, Elon Musk delivered what sounded like a eulogy for swapping, saying that Tesla had seen “a very low take rate for the pack swap station.” It was becoming plain that Supercharging was more practical and more convenient, and Musk said that swapping was “unlikely to be something that’s worth expanding in the future, unless something changes.”


A Tesla Model S pulling into the now defunct Harris Ranch battery swap location. The process may prove much more advantageous for the Tesla Semi.

Could that something be an electric semi truck? There are several reasons why swapping might make sense for long-haul trucks. Unlike passenger vehicles, over-the-road trucks are typically in motion for long periods of time, so their battery packs are likely to wear out sooner (in terms of calendar life). Swapping would make it easier to replace them with newer (and ever-better) packs. It could also allow the packs to be smaller and lighter, saving room for valuable cargo capacity. And pack leasing could make the value proposition of switching to electric trucks more attractive for operators.


Tesla battery switching

Analysts Jonas and Shanker predict that a carrier that currently spends 50 cents per mile for diesel could cut its fuel costs in half, and that Tesla might profitably lease a battery pack to the carrier for around $25,000 per year. “If we consider the fact that the powertrain in Class 8 trucks today is about 50% of the $150,000 cost of a new tractor, the $75,000 savings in buying a truck without a powertrain would be worth almost $0.20/mile over the life of the truck,” they write. “With this in mind, Tesla could charge as much as $0.45/mile and the truck carrier would still save 50% in fuel costs.”

Tesla Semi competitor

Nikola One’s prototype electric semi truck

Meanwhile, Tesla is developing an autonomous semi truck that can travel in “platoons” that automatically follow a lead vehicle, and is getting close to testing a prototype, according to an email discussion between the car company and the Nevada DMV, seen by Reuters.

Tesla and Nevada DMV representatives discussed the testing of two prototype trucks in June. “Our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle,” wrote Tesla Regulatory Official Nasser Zamani. California DMV officials also recently met with Tesla to discuss its efforts with autonomous trucks.

Several other companies developing autonomous driving systems are looking at long-haul trucks, which they see as a likely early candidate for the technology. Rolling down the Interstate is an easier task for a self-driving system than navigating city centers, and allowing drivers to rest on the road would be a huge benefit, so even a system that drove itself only on the highway would be quite valuable. Silicon Valley startup Peloton Technology is working with several truck makers, including Volvo, on a platooning system that incorporates radar sensors and direct vehicle-to-vehicle communications.


Sources: ReutersFreightwaves

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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42 Comments on "What’s Tesla’s Plan For Its Upcoming Electric Semi?"

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OMG…..They are going to use the trucks to bring battery packs and drive trains to Fremont from the Gigafactory.

Saving them mega $$$, a getting great proof of concept data.

I always thought the first hyper-loop would be from the Gigafactory to the Fremont plant. And the second would be from the ports to both places.
I still think that the hyper-loop would be a better candidate for freight than people. Replace trains, and long-haul trucks. Put depots all over the country and just worry about local deliveries, which EV semi’s could handle no problem.

Drag coefficient of 15.8????????

Nah, it’s a very niche market to cut travel time by a few hours for freight. People, OTOH, see great value in saving time.

Shipping goods in truck convoys is much better. I’m still waiting for Teslas to do this in passenger cars, saving road space and a little efficiency.

A few hours? I’m smack in the middle of the country. Anything I get that comes from a boat that goes on a truck or rail takes DAYS. Even if they ship it air from the boat…it still takes over a day.

If a freight hyper-loop actually happened (and I realize this is probably just a dream) Freight from a shipping port on eiter coast could be in KS in hours…

You can get just about anything shipped overnight, these days, if you’re willing to pay the extra expense for express shipping.

If you ship it by Hyperloop, that would also be a significantly higher shipping charge than sending it by UPS ground transportation.

So really, where is the advantage?

P.S. — “Hello” from another Kansas boy! 🙂

If Hyperloop has an economic structure roughly equivalent to airline travel, then moving freight would be cost-equivalent to air freight. While of course there is a lot of cargo that moves by air freight, it seems rather unrealistic to suggest that would favor freight over passenger service. And moving very heavy items like Tesla battery packs by air freight seems very questionable in terms of cost.

I do agree that it would be best to start any commercial Hyperloop service with freight only, to work out any initial problems and establish a record of safety before risking the lives of passengers. But long-term, the primary purpose of Hyperloop, just like airlines and airports, should be high-speed passenger service, not moving freight.

MY two pennies worth, I think Tesla will be going down the battery pack leasing option for their truck as that makes the most sense. The lease cost would be based on annual mileage for the entire fleet. Battery swapping will be the method used and Tesla’s cost of battery degradation and the amount of electricity needed to charge the returned battery packs will be incorporated into the lease costs (as then everything scales with mileage). I think the battery packs will be a standard size for all truck sizes. The larger trucks take more of the battery packs. This means the battery swap stations only need to keep one size battery pack for all the entire truck fleet. Best of all, Tesla wouldn’t need to move around a lot of battery packs because they’d only need to keep enough battery packs to cover the demand of battery swapping. Empty battery packs would be put on charge and would be available for usage as soon as they are full. Tesla would remotely monitor battery degradation and would be able to easily take out a degraded battery for stock and replace it with a new one. (A small amount of battery… Read more »

I think there is a show-stopper for battery swapping in terms of economics. If the trucking company has to rent two packs per semi truck, then they’ve just doubled the annual rental fee, which largely wipes out the cost advantage over diesel.

If slow charging is used, I think it’s hard to justify less than two packs per truck. If fast charging is used, so that fewer than two packs per truck could be used (say, 1.25 packs per truck), then the packs will wear out faster, and Tesla would have to charge a higher fee per year.

Nope, I don’t see how the economics for that would work.

I am, of course, willing to be persuaded I’m wrong, but for anyone challenging my conclusion here, please detail your premises and show your math.

They could charge by the mile driven on the pack. At $2.40 (The average cost I see driving cross-country every month) a gallon for diesel, trucking companies are paying around forty cents mile. It would be easy to undercut that cost. Not to mention the massive amount of maintenance that has to go into a normal rig would be nil. It is very expensive to keep them maintained.
Assuming they do pack swaps in the first place. They would have to install way too many pack swapping stations for this to be feasible. Half a dozen per place, or more. Seems a lot cheaper to install SC3/4 at truck stops. Then figure out the mileage a pack can give before it hits the 80% degradation threshold and charge accordingly for the lease of the pack. /quick thoughts

“They would have to install way too many pack swapping stations for this to be feasible.” That was the fundamental problem causing the failure of Better Place and its battery swapping subscription plan; that BP had to build out a bunch of expensive battery swap stations in advance, and stock those stations with expensive battery packs, before it could reasonably attract even a single paying customer. The up-front cost was much too high. That’s why Tesla is smart to talk about selling only to trucking fleet operators. Operators can determine for themselves where and when it makes sense to replace diesel semi tractors with BEV semi tractors. There’s no need for Tesla to build out a bunch of battery swap stations in advance; the fleet operators can decide for themselves where to install those; where it makes economic sense for them to do that. But as I’ve said in other posts here, I think that battery swapping isn’t the right approach. Better to limit the BEV semi tractors to a ~250 mile range, and where longer range is needed, use relays of tractors instead of battery swapping. So long as each tractor is kept in service pulling at least one… Read more »

Mil said:

“Also, I think the battery swap stations will be automated (so might not even need to be manned).”

Certainly. Both Better Place and Tesla used entirely automated battery swap stations. No attendant/operator needed.

“Tesla and Nevada DMV representatives discussed the testing of two prototype trucks in June. “Our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle,”

I’m thinking Tesla will use the new Semi to move completed motor/battery sub assemblies between the giga factory and Fremont.

There is a small, but significant threat to this plan.

As in every business plan that predicts large benefits, it attracts competition. In this case from the intended customers themselves. If you show them how much they can save by leasing the batteries and swapping them, some clever accountants will start numbers crunching.

They will ask how much they can save if they buy the batteries outright and charge them the old fashioned way. By not paid employees waiting for the batteries being charged. Those savings are larger, they will buy the batteries and not pay the drivers the time the batteries are charging, calling it “rest time”.

Only when the costs of leasing and swapping are lower than buying and charging can this scheme work. And the costs of buying and charging are lower.

It might not be significant enough profit/savings to make it worth the trouble.

I don’t see how this would seriously impact Tesla’s market. Whether the trucking companies buy the packs or rent them, they won’t be building the packs themselves. Whether renting or buying, they’ll be getting them from a company with expertise in building BEV semi tractors and large battery packs.

Tesla seems to be the first company entering this field with a highway-capable BEV semi tractor. That’s not to say Tesla won’t have competitors in the future, but it’s not like the trucking companies are going to pay some auto shop to convert their diesel semi tractors to BEV tractors!

So now we are supposed to believe that Tesla will set up a network of battery swap stations along side the Supercharger network? At what, ~$1 million a pop? Hmmm, we’ll see….

Dedicated super charger stops are not cheap either. I did some simple math and calculated that a large truck super charger station would need a 1 million dollar power pack…..and that’s just the power pack that doesn’t include the 1 Mw chargers you would need to charge a large truck battery.

So it’s an expensive proposition no matter how you cut it.

If they did do that, I think it would be similar to the way the sc network evolved.
In this case along CA truck routes.

Also the savings should be calculated against CNG, it’s cheaper. So they could not charge .45 cents more like .30/mile, to be better than CNG.

Yea, they’d have to sell 10s of vehicles to raise these kinds of funds. 😀

This seems more than feasible.

I would think the economics would work better if Tesla would let the trucking companies set up their own battery swap stations, targeting their own needs. Tesla might well assist them in setting up the station; the mechanism needed for doing the actual battery swapping is complex and expensive, and will be even more expensive for the very heavy semi tractor battery packs.

But as I’ve already posted, I don’t think the economic case for battery swapping works. If the company has to rent (or buy) multiple battery packs per truck, then the economic advantage over diesel disappears.

Since tractor-trailers need much more energy than the typical car, and sometimes need quick turn around, the battery swap option becomes much more realistic since it will be costly to try to fast-charge a ‘semi’, unless done overnight at an existing supercharger.

Quite obviously if this option didn’t exist, then there would be no choice but attempt to build a BIG fast charger. But it does exist so apparently Tesla is going the easier route.

“Quite obviously there would be no choice but attempt to build a BIG fast charger. But it does exist so apparently Tesla is going the easier route.”

This swap idea is from 2 Morgan Stanley anal ists. It’s not from Tesla. Plus large super chargers DO exist. Ptotera plus some others have them.

You’re conflating two things, Bill. Sure, a semi tractor sized battery pack will need a lot more power to charge than a Tesla Model S/X. But overnight charging, even for a BEV semi tractor, won’t be fast charging. Fast charging a pack on a daily basis wears out the pack too fast. If trucking companies were allowed to do that every day, then Tesla would have to charge them a higher annual fee to cover the cost of the packs wearing out sooner. But I don’t see the need for fast-charging, for the average BEV semi tractor. The average commercial semi tractor is only driven 3x the annual distance of a passenger car, so obviously the average semi tractor is being driven far less than 24 hours a day. That down time can be used to slow-charge the battery pack, without any need for battery swapping, so long as the semi tractor spends its night sitting at a recharging station. This does somewhat limit the usefulness. No longer will semi truck drivers be able to pull over whenever they get sleepy, and continue after they’ve had some hours of sleep. No, any sleep period or hours of idle time would… Read more »

I may be “conflating two things”, but I’m giving Tesla the benefit of the doubt. A supercharger facility could be installed at a truck stop. 120 kw isn’t going to wear out any 600 kwh battery pack anytime soon.

The rest of your drivel was equally inaccurate.

I’m still in the dedicated super charger network camp. These large semi truck super charger stations are a perfect vertical integration of where Tesla is trying to go. Into the power business. They can make their own electricity using solar and Telsa power packs.

Then offer free super charging and they will have a line 1 mile long for people to buy this truck.

Free fuel…that’s what Tesla nearest competition is offering. So Elon will offer it as well….and he will have this truck out BEFORE Nikola’s fuel cell truck.

Nikola One uses fuel cells and batteries for range, they plan to sell the fuel as well.

The economic model for powering a semi tractor using compressed hydrogen gas for fuel doesn’t work. The potential advantage of a BEV semi tractor is the cost savings over diesel. Powering it with H2 would cost more than diesel, not less.

Tesla might actually be able to sell a BEV semi tractor that would work for some (not all) trucking companies’ business plans. Nikola certainly won’t, if it sticks to a hydrogen-powered “fool cell” truck.

A kg of H2 takes them twice as far as a gallon of diesel. Nikola can sell a kg of H2 for $5 since it takes less than $1 of natural gas to make it.

Will it be able to go to Mars on a single charge? That’s the question that needs answering.

(And home again. The charging infrastructure on Mars is scandalous!)

“…Tesla might profitably lease a battery pack to the carrier for around $25,000 per year.” Hmmm. I was all set to post that this number is totally unrealistic… but then I did the math, and… using a lot of assumptions, including the assumption that the battery pack will last for 20 years, and surprisingly I must agree that $25,000 per year might actually be a realistic figure. This really causes me to re-think one of the assumptions in my “Napkin math 1.0” analysis of a theoretical BEV semi tractor; my assumption that the battery pack would have to be replaced frequently, which would make the entire concept of using that for long-distance trucking economically unfeasible. What I had failed to take into consideration is that a larger battery pack will last much longer than a smaller one. So altho a typical commercial semi tractor is driven about 3x the distance of the average American car per year, my “Napkin math 1.0” analysis assumed a range of ~750 miles for the BEV semi truck… which happily is pretty close to 3x the EPA range of the Tesla Model S85. If we assume, therefore, that a BEV semi truck’s battery pack can… Read more »


The battery life data shows 220,000 miles to 90 % capacity. At 250 miles per cycle that means the Tesla pack is good for 880 cycles (to 90%).

With a battery sized to 600 miles range that says that the tesla semi truck would go 528,000 miles before hitting 90% capacity.

Just as a wild guess maybe the pack would go twice the distance to 80%. I have no idea if it’s linear or not,

That says the truck battery would be good for around 1 million miles.

Yes, you are getting numbers as ridiculously inflated as I did. My math, which used some rough assumptions, show the Model S85 battery pack should last more than 32 years before dropping to 80% capacity.

But I’m pretty sure the shelf life of li-ion batteries isn’t that long, so I don’t think that’s a realistic number.

I picked 20 years as a reasonable figure for the shelf life of current li-ion batteries, but I admit it’s just a WAG (Wild-Arsed Guess). It could be less.

But whatever the average lifespan is, that will affect the economic situation drastically. Whether or not Tesla could make a profit renting such packs, and whether or not it makes economic sense for a trucking company to rent or buy such packs, is entirely dependent on the average useful lifespan.

“Yes, you are getting numbers as ridiculously inflated as I did.”

I’m just using the reference you cited in your original post.


A cycle life of 1 million miles doesn’t sound inflated it sounds a little early compared to the life of a diesel truck.

Indiana Jones famously said “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” Well here it’s exactly the opposite. It’s not that I don’t think a battery pack could possibly last for a million miles; it’s that I don’t think it would last for that many years.

Li-ion batteries have two different lifespan limitations: cycle life and calendar life. Even if it would last that many cycles, I don’t think it would last that many years. And worse: As li-ion batteries “age” due to cycling, they degrade gently and fairly predictably. But when they reach the end of calendar life, the capacity abruptly drops off a cliff.

I’m not convinced. I still think cycle life will be the critical variable, not calendar life.

Well, in practice, you’re probably right. Probably Tesla won’t use the very large ~1800 kWh battery packs that I stipulated in my “Napkin math 1.0” analysis.

As I’ve discussed in posts in this very discussion, I think it makes far more economic sense to use a battery pack that gives the semi tractor a range of ~250 miles, so that would be a pack size of ~600 kWh… or more likely, assuming that Tesla uses superior streamlining and thus reduced drag, perhaps something more like 450-500 kWh. But again, these are just rough guesses.

Anyway, with a significantly smaller battery pack, and therefore more frequent cycling, then it’s far more likely the pack will be degraded to 80% capacity or less in use, rather than reaching the end of calendar life.

Here’s a different concept: Instead of battery pack swapping, use a relay system. Let’s say that a Tesla BEV semi tractor is equipped with a ~250 mile battery pack. For trips of 300-500 miles, the trucking company would need to stage that trip in two legs. (250 miles could be stretched out to 300 merely by driving slower.) That would require a staging area; a freight yard where a trailer would be dropped off at the end of one leg, to be picked up by a semi tractor working the 2nd leg of the route. This concept obviously could be extended to multiple legs, for trips of up to 750 miles with three legs, or even more. So what’s the limitation here? Well, every truck needs to be hauling a load as much as possible. So again, this economic model will work best for busy routes where there are multiple loads being hauled along the route every day. What the fleet operator does not want is trucks sitting around idle for days at a time. The company has to pay yearly fees and taxes, not to mention amortization on those expensive semi tractors; all that expense has to be paid… Read more »

One point my old man just mentioned, (runs his own Scania & DAF Truck Fleet) with a bunch of Tesla model 3 motors, (assuming 1 Drive Motor per wheel for Maximum Regenerative Braking) that’s about 2,000Hp or as J.B.Staubel said the drive inverters are capable of 300Kw that’s 2,400Hp on a 6×6 Tractor Unit. The main point being it’s going to eat through tyres if the powers not managed well. It would be a beast on the road though!

A lot of Market Analysts say the Tesla Rig will be too heavy but an average European Diesel tractor unit is about 10metric Tons. The Tesla Tractor Unit with a 5ton Battery Pack will deliver over 1,000Kw/h. A Battery that Large will accept a lot of Energy from Regent Braking

I have a lot of questions about Tesla’s ability to build BEV semi tractors for the commercial market, and according to Tesla they will do it without teaming with any truck manufacturer.

But one thing I have absolutely no doubt about, is Tesla’s ability to electronically limit the acceleration of the truck to a level that won’t tear up the tires.

Adam Jonas is a bit of a nutcase. 1. Long haul tractors don’t average $150k. More like 120k. 2. Save 75k by eliminating the drive train? WTF? EV truck still has a drive train. It’s cheaper than a big diesel unit, but savings is more like 25k. 3. $25k/year/pack lease fee is a random number, useless without half a dozen other parameters. 4. Lease vs. buy economics are almost identical for high usage assets. So forget all the random numbers and break it down by kWh. 5. Streamlined EV Semi gets (roughly) half a mile per kWh. If a battery lasts 1000 cycles each kWh provides 500 miles lifetime. 6. At $150/kWh that’s 30 cents/mile just in battery depreciation. Finance costs adds a nickel for a short life (4 year) battery like this. Add 20 cents/mile for electricity (10 cents/kWh). That’s 55 cents, which exceeds diesel cost of 40 cents/mile ($2.40/gal / 6 mpg). Long haul EV Semi trucks don’t work economically unless the batteries last A LOT longer than 1000 full cycles. No Tesla has yet exceeded 800 full cycles, and quite a few batteries failed earlier. Note1: Tesla warrants their NMC energy storage batteries for 10 years, ~3000… Read more »