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Electric trucks promise to slash running costs

18/02/2018 by Mark Schneider in Technology

Tesla has promised to turn the trucking industry on its head with the development of a powerful new electric semi that promises dramatically reduced running costs. But as usual with Tesla, the glittering promise is qualified with a lot of "ifs, buts and maybes".

The semi is undeniably big and impressive – "a beast" according to Tesla's Elon Musk that's designed for heavy-duty work. Apart from that not much is known about it apart from a claim that it will be 70% cheaper to operate according to Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, who describes it as "the biggest catalyst in trucking in decades".

Electric truck travel range

The big question on everyone's lips with electric vehicles is range and there's rather vague talk of a range between 300-500 kilometres, although Tesla isn't saying much at this stage.

Without extensive recharging options that rules out the big Tesla semi for long-haul work, despite Tesla's claims to the contrary, but it would undoubtedly fit the bill for local transport needs and some regional work. A lack of recharging options wouldn't necessarily hamper it here because it could be recharged at its base ready for the day's work.

If Tesla's cars are anything to go by, the truck will not lack for power and Tesla claims its torque will be more than a match for any diesel semi. And just like its cars, the semi will feature autonomous driving capabilities, but again, just how much is still a mystery at this stage.

Can Tesla deliver an electric truck?

If there's one overriding doubt about the new truck it's whether Tesla can actually deliver the goods. Because when it comes to the mass production stage Tesla has a track record of over promising and under delivering. Production of its much anticipated Model 3 is well behind schedule, with just 260 cars produced in the third quarter of 2017.

But Tesla isn't the only one with skin in the electric trucking game. They'll be facing some very tough competition from Daimler at least, whose Mercedes Benz trucking division has also announced that it will be selling electric semis within five years. No one doubts Mercedes Benz's ability to mass-produce trucks.

Mercedes-Benz electric truck

The new Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck will haul up to 26 tonnes and is clearly aimed at the inner city transport market, where its limited range of 200 kilometres really won't be an issue.

It's powered by an electrically driven rear axle with a maximum output of 2x125kw with peak torque of 2x500nm. Combined with the gearing, that produces 11,000nm of torque at the wheel, according to Mercedes.

Big cost savings

For the trucking industry electric trucks come with the promise of big cost savings according to online magazine FleetOwner. It starts with savings on fuel, which could be as high as 80-90% even after the cost of electricity is factored in. But electric trucks also have vastly lower maintenance costs because engines, transmissions and exhaust systems are replaced by maintenance-free brushless induction motors and batteries.

Weighed against that is the cost of new electric trucks and the cost of installing recharging systems and their associated infrastructure.

At this stage it's too early to say how the promise of lower costs will play out in the real world. If that promise comes to fruition, however, then it's a fair bet that electric trucks will be quietly whirring their way around our roads rather sooner than our roads are filled with electric cars.

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