By HARSHAL BHOSALE, Managing Editor

On November 16, 2017, Tesla shocked-and-awed the world with arguably two of their biggest game changer products so far, the sleek new Semi-truck and the gob-smacking Roadster 2.0, the latter of which was unveiled in a spectacularly Steve Jobs-esque “one more thing” fashion. The latter, as expected, got most of the media attention.

In CEO Elon Musk’s own words, “the point of this (Roadster) is to deliver a hard-core smack-down to gasoline powered cars”. And sure it does, if the numbers of the production version match up to the claims made during the unveiling.

Let’s do a quick run-down, shall we?

1.9 seconds from 0-60 MPH.
4.2 seconds from 0-100 MPH.
8.9 seconds for a standing quarter-mile.
Top speed in excess of 250 MPH (that’s 402+ kmph for metric folks).
200 kW-hr battery pack.
620 mile range.
Price tag? $200,000 for the base model (above specs).

Impressed yet?

Just to give you an idea of how crazy the 0-60 MPH time is: the latest mind-blowing fuel-guzzling drag monster, the Dodge SRT Demon, manages only 2.3 seconds to 60 MPH.

It’s easy to see how every supercar manufacturer in the world must be wetting their trousers. Although they wouldn’t admit it.

Beyond the hyper-awed public excitement and viral social media attention the event (and the Roadster itself) received, these announcements are part of a larger strategy by the pioneering Elon Musk. The Roadster is intended to generate and maintain investor and public interest in the company, reminiscent of the humble beginnings of the company itself (remember the cute li’l Lotus Elise-based Roadster 1.0 everyone?). And financial stability is necessary in these times of self-proclaimed “production hell” the company is facing with the make-it-or-break-it Model 3 roll out. Wall Street seems to buy this line of thinking, with stock prices still stable and rising. The unveiling was also a sort-of fundraising venture for the cash-strapped company, with a signature “Founders Series” of 1000 vehicles at $250,000 each being announced, which, if sold out (and they will), will net the company a cool $250 million in much needed cash.

However, this post is not about the drool-inducing future-car. The real meat of the matter, ladies and gentlemen, lies in the semi truck unveiling.

Why the Tesla Semi matters

By tackling the coveted trucking industry head-on, Elon and co. are attempting a massive endeavour – the end of road transportation as we have known it since the advent of internal combustion engines in the late 19th century.

That’s right. A successful foray of electrification into the highly lucrative trucking industry will forever change the way the economy functions. This is because ground transportation complements the manufacturing sector (and thus the economy) in very intrinsic ways. While that may sound like quite tall a claim, it is by no means unfounded. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the trucking industry in the United States alone hit a record $726.4 billion in revenue in 2015. On the global front, the logistics industry worldwide is estimated to amount to a whopping €10.6 trillion according to this Forbes article.

According to the same ATA figures, about 70 percent of the entire domestic freight transportation was carried out by trucks, with an estimated expenditure of $105.2 billion on diesel. It is pertinent to note that road freight plays a very important role in the American economy, and as the old adage goes, “if you bought it, a truck brought it!”. A fundamental change in the trucking industry, therefore, is bound to have a significant impact in the cost of any product that is impacted by ground transportation, which is basically every product ever.

There’s no denying that continuous improvements are being made in conventional diesel trucks with regard to increasing efficiency, improving autonomous capability and in general making it an easier job for individual truck owner-operators (who account for an estimated 90 percent in the long-haul freight segment) to use their trucks. Features such as platooning (where a convoy of partially-self-driving trucks maintains a constant gap from the lead truck, leading to efficiency gains mainly due to less air drag) are also being explored.

But electric trucks offer the potential for a huge change in the way the market itself functions. Although the economies of scale will still work in favour of traditional diesel rigs, a concerted effort by all manufacturers to move towards an electric-only future in the trucking space can result in drastic cost savings. (Elon did make it a point to talk about how the Total Cost of Operation, or TCO, is very competetive – an important factor for large fleet operators rather than the price of the truck itself).

And Tesla sure has an ace up their sleeve this time. The sheer audacity of the numbers that surround this concept truck are enough to catch anyone’s attention. With the drag co-efficient of a fish, so to speak (0.36 – lower than the new Bugatti Chiron!); and an unloaded 0 to 60 MPH time of 5.0 seconds, the truck nudges into sportscar territory. Even fully loaded at 80,000 lbs GVW, it is being claimed to achieve an unheard-of twenty-second sprint to 60 MPH. A 500-mile range (for now) is being promised, as is a 30-minute quick charge replenishing the range to 400 miles. The truck also boasts of an Enhanced Autopilot system offering platooning capability as standard, and an unheard-of 1 million mile drivetrain warranty.

These numbers may be subject to battery technology improvements by the time it rolls out, somewhere in 2020. (We all know how much faith to put in Tesla’s production prowess though.)

Oh, and did I forget the thermo-nuclear-explosion-proof-windshield-or-money-back-guarantee? Elon does like to make his little jokes. (On a serious note, windshield replacement is apparently quite a frequent expense among US truckers, and this design feature aims to reduce one of many operating costs).

With a starting price of $150,000 for the base model and $180,000 for the 500-mile variant (initial deposit of $20,000), going up to $200,000 (full payment) for the Founders Series limited edition (1000 units similar to the Roadster), the truck makes a serious business case for itself.

Bottom line is, this is ground-breaking stuff. Tesla is on the way to revolutionize road transport the way we’ve known it. The industry has taken notice, with car manufacturers across the world announcing a slew of electric cars (ToyotaVolvo, Volkswagen) – global policy changes have also added to the Tesla effect, forcing even dominant players such as Toyota into electrification, a huge strategy U-turn from their dreams of a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell-vehicle future. In the trucking space, Daimler and Cummins recently announced their own versions of short to medium-haul electric trucks suitable for urban duty cycles. These are baby steps for now, but established players stepping into the electric truck arena is going to be a cause for consternation for the California-based newbie.

An interesting point to note here though, is that Elon never intended Tesla to be numero uno in sales figures. He just wanted to nudge other car manufacturers to embrace electrification as a way of life. This is reflected in the company’s Mission statement: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport” (changed in 2016 to ‘sustainable energy’).

Well, it looks like he is finally succeeding.