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Tesla’s semi-truck will be electric, Autonomous

Tesla will meet with the California and Nevada Departments of Motor Vehicles to talk about testing a semi-truck in those states, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. 

In April, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company planned to “unveil” an electric semi-truck in September. Many had speculated that that vehicle would be autonomous or semi-autonomous.

“It’s at least a semi-autonomous truck,” Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., told Bloomberg in April.

The reported discussions between Tesla and the DMVs confirm that the semi will drive itself to some degree. A DMV spokeswoman told CNBC that Tesla had “requested the meeting to talk about…efforts with autonomous trucks,” but added that the DMV “is not aware of the level of autonomy of the trucks.”

In an email to a Nevada DMV official, Tesla regulatory official Nasser Zamani wrote, per CNBC: “…our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle.”

“Platooning” involves programming vehicles to autonomously follow one another in a formation or “platoon,” CNBC says.

Tesla is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. It’s only production facility is in Fremont, CA, and its battery gigafactory is in Sparks, Nevada, just over 15 miles east of the CA-NV border, Bloomberg noted. So, it is logical for Tesla to begin testing its autonomous trucks in those states.

However, the electric automaker will face regulatory hurdles. A spokesman for the Nevada DMV said, per Bloomberg, that Tesla does not have and has not as yet applied for a testing license in the state. According to CNBC, “no companies yet have tested self-driving trucks in Nevada without a person in the cab.”

Moreover, California Highway Patrol does not permit testing of vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds (as Tesla’s truck will). However, a California DMV spokeswoman told Bloomberg her department is working to draft regulations governing the testing of such vehicles.

Many companies are developing autonomous long-haul transport vehicles. CNBC says commercial transport may be the ideal early market for autonomous technology, as trucks maintain constant speeds, and encounter minimal traffic on most interstates.

Nobody anywhere has developed an electric long-haul transport vehicle; battery range has been prohibitive. Tesla’s luxury Model S and Model X offerings are among the longest-range electric vehicles on the market today. The former can travel 335 miles on a single charge, the latter 295. A tank of diesel, on the other hand, can carry today’s trucks for 500 miles, CNBC says.

CNBC cites Venkat Viswanathan, a lithium ion battery researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, as saying that the battery needed to sustain a long-haul-transport electric vehicle would be so large they would become the trucks’ cargo.

Still, Musk maintains his trademark confidence.

The development of the semi is another in a string of recent efforts by the progressive automaker to expand into a wider array of markets. Tesla is set to mass produce its Model 3, a mid-market car priced around $35,000. The company also plans to release a “next-gen,” convertible version of its first ever car, The Roadster, Musk said in a comment on the April tweet referenced above. In another comment on the same tweet, he said the unveiling of a pickup truck was scheduled for 18-24 months’ time.

“The important thing is that while everyone is focused on the Model 3, there are a lot of other projects going on at Tesla,” said Kallo in April’s Bloomberg report. Per the same article, analyst James Albertine of Consumer Edge Research said Tesla’s ventures into new markets should excite investors.

The automotive industry is accelerating toward a future of electric, autonomous vehicles, and Tesla looks poised to capitalize on both fronts. Investors are showing their faith. Since December 30, the company’s stock has climbed almost 70%. Since Musk’s April 13 Twitter statements, Tesla shares are up 18.4%.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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