We still have some questions for Elon Musk about Tesla’s new Semi

Tesla's Semi truck still has some big unanswered questions.
Image: tesla

Tesla finally unveiled its heavy-duty, all-electric Semi truck, and we’re impressed.

The big rig is the sum of all of the automaker’s work in one massive package, featuring design cues from its other vehicles and even borrowing their parts, like the Model 3 motors that power each of its “super single” wheels. Musk claims the Semi will also offer truckers BAMF acceleration and performance specs, up to 500 miles of range per charge, and a cheaper cost to operate than standard diesel trucks.   

The Semi certainly looks the part of the next big thing for the trucking industry — but there’s still so much about it that we don’t know. Elon Musk only showed off certain aspects of the truck during his presentation, leaving some very important features to be shared at a later date, when Tesla is ready to start churning out the rigs for clients. 

Here are five of the biggest questions we still have about the Tesla Semi.

1. When will truckers get some shuteye space?

Tesla removed a ton of standard semi truck features in its reimagined, new-agey version of a long-haul cab. The most significant of these was a sleeper area, where drivers can catch some zzz’s along their routes. Having this dedicated space becomes even more important when truckers spend long hours on the road, giving them a spot to rest or at least disengage for a bit to recharge. 

Where’s the sleeping space?

Image: tesla

The automaker told Mashable at the reveal event that its designers are “considering” some type of sleeper model in the future, which would extend the length of the cabin, but not the overall truck length.

So, when exactly will that future be? Will the Semi’s final launch design have a sleeper area, or will that be even further off? Why wasn’t the consideration made in the first place, in a cab that was clearly designed to maximize comfort and productivity?  

Which brings us to the next big question…     

2. When will it actually be able to drive itself? 

One of Tesla’s biggest promises is that its vehicles are equipped with hardware that can handle full-on self-driving tasks right now. The only problem is the software isn’t developed enough to handle the job, so drivers are left waiting for over-the-air (OTA) updates that will, eventually, allow their vehicles to drive themselves. The Semi is no different.

When will the Semi’s Autopilot shift from the high-level driver assistance feature it is today to a fully-realized self-driving experience? 

Musk hinted earlier this year that might come at the end of 2017, but it appears that those claims were overblown. And there’s no telling that Autopilot will work the same way on a truck as it will in Tesla’s smaller vehicles — Waymo told us that integrating its autonomous system into big trucks takes extra testing and considerations, which could be the case for Tesla, too. 

3. Will multiple Semis form platoons?

One of the biggest rumors ahead of the Semi’s announcement was that fleet operators would be able to send out multiple rigs out on the highway in a platoon formation.

Platooning is useful because it increases a fleet’s efficiency by saving energy. The lead vehicle acts as a windbreak for the rigs behind it, allowing them to expend less energy on the road. The technique depends on the lightning quick reactions of Tesla’s self-driving system, rather than the slower, more variable reflexes of human drivers. 

The technique was demonstrated by Mercedes-Benz in Europe last year, when three of its prototype self-driving semi trucks drove the 375-mile trip from Stuttgart to Rotterdam in platooning formation. 

If Mercedes-Benz can do it, why not Tesla? Musk mentioned multiple Semis driving in convoys, but nothing specifically about platoons. Once Autopilot matures, we’re guessing the trucks will gain the ability — we just don’t know exactly when that will be.

4. How much will it really cost?

At the event, Musk gave us some insight about the Semi’s price — but never a bottom-line number.

He claimed that the Semi will have the lowest expense of ownership of any vehicle in its class. Musk says the Semi will cost, on average, 20 percent less per mile than a diesel truck from day one, with more savings for operators with multiple trucks in service and greater savings in the future with more advancements. 

The Semi’s homepage claims it will provide owners fuel and maintenance savings of more than $200,000 through a two-year payback period, and it costs $5,000 to place a reservation right now. 

Even though buying a semi truck (or a fleet of trucks) is much different than buying a standard consumer vehicle, we’re curious to have some estimate or real number for what it costs to operate one of the trucks. Familiar companies like Wal-Mart are already jumping on the Semi bandwagon — we want to know how much they’ll be shelling out.  

5. When will production actually start?

Production on the Semi line is slated to begin in 2019, with the first deliveries following shortly after.

The Model 3’s production hell and Tesla’s other endeavors, however, have proved that target dates don’t always hold up. Elon Musk might say one thing about his ambitious plans, but reality has at times proven him wrong — or if not wrong, just not entirely accurate.

But the Semi is a different case. This isn’t a wide consumer-facing vehicle that Tesla can release slowly to only its employees, like the Model 3, so the automaker will have more pressure to be ready to produce and deliver within its projected window. 

Will that be 2019? Only time will tell.

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