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Tesla announces electric truck and teases a new sports car

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

Musk claimed the Tesla Semi would go from zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds, compared with 15 seconds for a diesel truck. He also said it would climb a 5 percent grade hill at 65 mph, compared with a diesel's 45 mph.

"Megachargers" will be available "worldwide" to recharge trucks to a 400-mile range in 30 minutes. No detail on the megachargers was provided, except that they will be solar-powered.

Although Tesla roiled the auto industry by proving there was a market for cool-looking high-performance electric cars, the company is a fast follower in electric trucks.

Surround cameras minimize blind spots, Tesla said. The trucks will be equipped with enhanced autopilot and other self-drive and safety features such as automatic emergency braking, automatic lane keeping and lane departure warning.

Practically all the world's major truck manufacturers are developing electric-drive models, and plenty of start-ups are too -- garbage trucks, school buses, delivery vans, medium-duty trucks, big rigs. Some are already deployed.

The profit margins for trucks are in the mid-teens, more than twice as much as for cars. Last year, 249,952 heavy-duty trucks were sold in North America. But the heavy-truck business is slow-growing overall -- only about 0.6 percent a year, a rate that consulting firm Deloitte expects to continue until 2026.


Because electric trucks are starting from a small base of less than 1 percent of the total truck market, the segment's growth rate will be faster. Still, said Antti Lindstrom of IHS Markit, electric penetration of the big-rig market "isn't going to be very significant until after 2025 or 2030. And even then, it will be very limited compared to the total number of trucks being sold."

Tesla "clearly sees the promise" of electric trucks, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Autotrader. But the company will need to get a lot better at vehicle quality to compete for a customer base that is less forgiving than passenger-car buyers.

Tesla's Model X SUV was recently named least reliable in its class by Consumer Reports, and the rollout of the Model 3 sedan has been delayed by production problems at the company's Fremont auto factory and its Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada.

"The truck is a tool for making money," Krebs said. "When a truck is out of commission, money is lost. In contrast, a Tesla car owner has other vehicles in the household fleet to drive if the vehicle isn't operational."


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