The semi is the automaker’s first shot at disrupting the trucking industry in the same way it brought all-electric cars to the forefront of the consumer auto conversation — but Tesla won’t be alone in its attempt to bring electric, autonomous big rigs to the world’s highways.
There are multiple next-gen trucking projects in the works from all manner of players, from fledgling startups with one killer concept to major conglomerates launching new brands. Some of the ventures focus on creating all-electric powertrains for heavy-duty vehicles, while others add self-driving features and new fleet logistics systems to standard rigs — but they all want to shake up the trucking industry.
Before Musk takes the stage at 8 p.m. Pacific on Thursday (or jumps on top of his new rig or whatever he winds up doing), lets take a look at a few of the other most exciting trucks in development that could change the way we haul cargo.
Nikola was named to honor famed inventor Nikola Tesla just like Elon Musk’s auto company — but that’s where the similarities between the two projects end. Nikola is developing two planned class 8 semi-trucks with Bosch to harness both electric power and and hydrogen fuel cells, which the company claims will provide truckers with a range of 1,200 miles per charge.
Nikola’s more focused on reducing emissions and expanding range on the highway than creating new self-driving tech, but the trucks will have Bosch control software, and the company has other autonomous ventures. The Nikola One and Two are projected to hit the market in 2021.
German auto conglomerate Daimler has been working on autonomous and electric trucks for some time now, its recent Twitter spat with Elon Musk notwithstanding. Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz tested self-driving semi platoons across Europe and showed off the all-electric Urban eTruck concept, which boasted an estimated 124-mile range, last year.
More recently, Daimler Trucks’ Mitsubishi FUSO Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC) launched E-FUSO, a new all-electric brand to produce heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses. The E-FUSO Vision One Class 8 semi concept could have a 217-mile range once it hits production in “upcoming years” — but the brand’s first offering, smaller delivery vehicles, have already been snapped up by UPS.
Volkswagen AG’s Truck & Bus group is working to shake off the bad rep left by the conglomerate’s 2015 “Dieselgate” emissions scandal, so it has embraced electric, zero emissions development to the tune of $1.7 billion.
The commitment, which division head Andreas Renschler said will be spent by 2022, will be used on projects to create next-gen trucking technologies like EV drivetrains, autonomous systems, and cloud-based fleet management solutions.
Swedish startup Einride takes the modern semi truck and turns it on its head by removing the driver’s cab entirely, opting instead for autonomous or remote-controlled all-electric rigs built to help reduce Sweden’s freight emissions by 40 percent by 2035. Einride claims its T-pod vehicles will be able to haul 20-ton loads with a range of up to 124 miles per charge.
The company claims it will build up the necessary infrastructure for the first 200 pods to start hauling freight in Sweden by 2020, and signed a deal with Swedish grocery chain Lidl to launch a pilot program with the T-pods by the second half of 2018.
Embark launched out of stealth back in February with an autonomous platform built specifically for the trucking biz: it’s focused squarely on the highway, with an emphasis on making long hauls easier for human drivers. Unlike other systems, like Einride’s, a human operator remains an essential cog in Embark’s system.
The startup is began operations with permission to test its platform on Nevada’s highways, and recently began hauling Fridgidaire smart refrigerators from Texas to California. There’s no target dates available for a wider rollout, but Embark is ahead of its competitors in the southwest.
Cummins, a company known for its big rig diesel engines, is also going green. The company announced its all-electric AEOS concept just ahead of when Tesla was originally slated to unveil its semi earlier this fall.
The AEOS rig will purportedly offer a range of up to 100 miles per charge, with an option to add on additional battery packs for an extra 200 miles of power. Those batteries are expected to take an hour to charge when production starts in 2019, but Cummins said that it hopes to cut the time down to just 20 minutes by 2020.
Google spinoff company Waymo is better known as the top self-driving car project currently on the road, but it’s working on a platform for big rigs, too. A Waymo-branded Peterbilt semi was spotted in California back in June, and the company confirmed to Mashable that it is indeed working on a truck.
The vehicle was reportedly seen again later that month and some photos were shared around online, but little else is known about the project at the moment.
Uber-owned Otto was one of the first to show off a truck with self-driving capabilities in Oct. 2016 when a semi completed a 120-mile Budweiser beer run between from Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Since then, however, the program hasn’t had a smooth road forward.
Otto was founded by former Googler Anthony Levandowski, who became the head of Uber’s self-driving project and then the center of a contentious lawsuit between Waymo parent Alphabet and Uber after the former company alleged that he stole its autonomous secrets. Uber has done its best to wipe Levandowski and the Otto brand from its trucks, and the page on self-driving trucks is still live on its site, but it’s not clear what the future holds for the project.
OG truckmaker PACCAR is working to keep up with the innovation in the space, teaming teaming with Nvidia to create a self-driving platform for its Peterbilt, Kenworth, and DAF rigs. Unlike some of these other projects, PACCAR is already deeply ingrained in the industry, so the company could have an advantage over some of the newer, smaller players.
PACCAR and Nvidia have already shown off the system autonomously navigating private tracks (check out some footage above), but there’s no target date for its implementation IRL.
Let’s not forget about the big event, here — where Elon Musk goes, others will likely follow.
The semi’s unveiling will “blow your mind clear out of your skull,” according to Musk, who has unsurprisingly taken to Twitter to hype up his auto company’s latest creation. We expect the rig will have the same all-electric, self-driving capabilities as Tesla’s other vehicles, along with some class-specific features like platooning, probably won’t have everything Musk has hyped online:
Musk’s Master Plan also claims that the semi will be safer, cheaper, and more fun to operate than the current class of diesel rigs on the road.
Mashable will be on the ground in Hawthorne covering Tesla’s big event, so be sure to keep up with the announcements here.
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