The Future of Trucking Is Here And It’s Just Getting Started

We seem them just about every time we hit the road. They’re big, they’re loud, and they carry a lot of goods inside of them. Make no mistake: Over 70% of our nation’s economy is carried on tractor trailers. There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this blog post right now from a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer it was at one time on a truck making it’s way to where you had it delivered. If all tractor trailers came to a halt right now, our economy would be in some serious trouble.

Traditionally, tractor trailers are powered by diesel fuel, and most of them are today. With Tesla’s announcement,¬†electric trucks are about to hit the market very soon. Many big companies have placed large orders for their electric trucks. It’s a bold gamble, considering Tesla’s shaky history of reliability. And this is Tesla’s first electric truck, unlike their Model S which has been out for years.

The stats on Tesla’s semi truck prove that it has limited capability, at least starting out, but let’s go through them. The expected range is either 300 or 500 miles, depending on which model you buy. The battery is an impressive 800 kWh because it uses 8 Model S 100 kWh batteries. However, Tesla says that those batteries will take 30 minutes to reach 80% charging capacity, making it very difficult to see this being used in long distance hauls. However it would still remain effective in short distance and local runs, which is where I think right now the part of the market that Tesla is going for. Another plus is it has the full capacity to the maximum allowed 80,000 pounds trucks are allowed to tow, and it can still go 60 mph on a 5% grade with a full load, which is good.

Tesla is not the only company out there that is putting electric trucks on the roadway. The Nikola Corporation is developing a truck that is powered by hydrogen and an electric motor. The stats of the truck are very, very intriguing. It can produce 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 ft pounds of torque. That’s pretty impressive. But what really caught my eye was this: It can last between 800 and 1200 miles per tank of hydrogen fuel, and it can fully refill the tank in 15 minutes. That’s a considerable bump from Tesla, who can recharge 80% in 30 minutes, while this one is 100% in 15 minutes. In addition, it has a 320 kwh battery and regenerative braking, similar to what we already see with hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.

Another reason why I really like this concept of truck is because it doesn’t have to slow down for hills. The Nikola One can still go 65 mph safely up a 6% grade without having to slow down. It also has 6×4 wheel drive, and as far as I’ve researched, that would be a first. The truck could come to a full stop in about 250 feet, compared to 280 in standard diesel trucks.

Right now one of the big downsides to this truck is the availability of hydrogen refill stations. The current network is very small. Now granted this truck is still in pre-order stage and they aren’t officially on the road yet, meaning they have time to expand the network before hitting the road. Tesla faced the exact same problem when they first started, and now their supercharger network is very large and only growing by the year.

I favor the Nikola One concept more than the Tesla one, because it can go a minimum of 60% longer between refills than charging a Tesla semi, and up to 140% in good conditions. In addition, it only take 15 minutes to reach 100% verses Tesla’s 80% in 30 minutes. When you’re a truck driver, you’re often paid by the mile, and if you have to sit and wait over 30 minutes for a full charge, that’s time you could be using to drive so you get paid. And now that trucks are required to submit to the electronic log system, it forces them to try and squeeze every mile they can before their time clock is up and they have to park for the night.¬† But that’s a whole different issue that I won’t go further into in this post.

I do believe the Tesla semi will get better, as does all electric vehicles over time. New innovations will be implemented, and battery packs will get more efficient, thus making trucks go longer distances. It’s certainly a start from Tesla, but they have a long way to go before they can compete in the entire truck market.

Should we be excited about this? Absolutely. While tractor trailers move the majority of our nation’s economy, the downside is a lot of carbon emissions. That’s gotten better over the years because of regulations being passed to reduce their emissions. But now is the first chance we have as a country to start making the transition into fully electric, non-polluting trucks. Now again, I’m not a traditional environmentalist, meaning I don’t necessarily believe in man-made climate change, however, I will agree 100% that no one should have to stand next to a loud motor burning lots of diesel fuel and inhale the fumes that come out of it.

Brian Cole

I'm Brian and I'm the founder of TransportationOfTomorrow.com. I have a strong passion for fixing America's transportation infrastructure problem and traffic flow issues. I ultimately want to see the American economy grow as far as it will go, create massive amounts of jobs, and in that way help the quality of how people live.