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By Chris White
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Thursday that the electric vehicle maker will begin producing over-the-road semis despite lacking the requisite battery technology.
Musk, who owns more than 20 percent of Tesla, told his Twitter followers that the company will unveil an electric semi-truck in September. He did not mention the specific date that Tesla’s groupies might expect the truck.
The Tesla Semi has been long anticipated. The program is part of Musk’s so-called Master Plan 2, which stated last July that the Tesla Semi will “deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”
Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 13, 2017
The first part of Musk’s master plan was implemented in 2006, which promised Tesla shareholders and customers that the California-based company would produce high-end electric vehicles.The results are a mixed bag, especially on the business end.
Even though it managed to help the company generate about $1.7 billion from selling its cars, and another $500 million from zero-emission vehicle credits, Musk’s master plan resulted in the company spending $2.1 billion on R&D, and another $4.1 billion in capital investment, leaving Tesla with a deep deficit. The company has not made a profit in 13 years.
Electric vehicles have a limited range of about 250 miles per charge, but the Tesla Semi would have an even shorter range. The truck would need an enormous 23-ton lithium-ion battery to power it the 500-mile range most semis achieve, according to German engineering firm Siemens.
The battery would need to be half the weight of the truck.
Tesla’s monstrous Nevada-based gigafactory is unlikely to produce any batteries that size.
Ian Wright, a former vice president of vehicle development at Tesla who left in 2004, told reporters it’s futile for Musk to build an all-electric. He said all-electric trucks lack the energy density to haul cargo over hundreds of miles.
“It doesn’t make any sense in a long-haul application,” Wright said in 2016 shortly after Tesla revealed its Master Plan 2. “It’s off by order of magnitude.”
Analysts have suggested that Tesla’s lithium-ion battery production is the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. Battery production typically results in siginificant ecological and environmental problems, especially in countries like China and India, where graphite mines cause enormous amounts of pollution.
“It’s a PR and brand disaster waiting to happen,” Matt Stack, the co-founder of tech investment group Devonshire Research Group, told The Daily Caller News Foundation last year. “Companies that rely solely on the green image, including Tesla, will see their profit margins suffer, and brand value decline.”
Tesla uses Panasonic batteries, which uses graphite derived from mines in China, according to a report published in The Washington Post last October. The mines are raining graphite particles down on the residents of several villages in northeastern in the country.
Tesla told reporters its batteries do not include graphite from the Chinese company BTR, yet declined to identify its graphite source. Nearly 75 percent of the world’s graphite comes from the northeastern section of the China. The company’s refusal to explain where its graphite is produced could raise questions about the environmental soundness of its vehicles.