As accurate as they proved to be, those sneak preview photos didn’t reveal inside the Tesla truck. The interior of the Tesla Semi, in fact, features a centrally located driver’s seat behind the enormous curved windshield. The side glass flows smoothly around the surprisingly thin A pillars, so the driver’s view forward is unparalleled.
The steering position, with a small, car-like wheel on the model at the walk-around intro, was flanked on either side by flat panel displays from the Model 3 that are customisable, as in the Tesla cars. In fact, this not only represents a major advance in driver controls, it is actually cheaper for Tesla to integrate the same flat-panel technology it uses in the cars instead of creating a regular dashboard.
On the walk-around day-cab truck, there was a small passenger seat against the back wall for a riding helper or driver instructor. For anyone who attended the launch of the Nikola, there are obvious similarities to the Nikola launched last year. But there are significant differences, too. The 6×4 walk-around truck featured a drive tandem, each conventionally air-sprung drive axle featuring a power pack from a Tesla Model 3 on the nose of the axle, with separate motors for each wheel.
The air-ride is conventional heavy duty, with regular looking frame rails. The Tesla guide said the battery pack resides beneath the cab, and a conventional fifth wheel allows for trailer coupling. The cab looks like a sleeper from the outside but that’s because the cab sides extend well back from the back of the cab.
The industry has not been slow to respond, with several having expressing their interest immediately – though the trucks are not expected to go into production until 2019. Truckload carrier J.B. Hunt was among the first fleets to publicly reveal it had reserved the truck – or several, in fact.
“Reserving Tesla trucks marks an important step in our efforts to implement industry-changing technology,” said John Roberts, President and CEO at J.B. Hunt. “We believe electric trucks will be most beneficial on local and dray routes, and we look forward to utilising this new, sustainable technology.”
Major US grocery chain Meijer has placed down US$5,000 ($6,560) to reserve four models – though reservations are reported to be $5,000 per truck, and mega retailer Walmart has revealed it is considering how the Tesla Semi will fit in its distribution plans.
“We have a long history of testing new technology, including alternative-fuel trucks, and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle,” Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said in an email. “We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions.”
Unusual for a car company, the design team appears to understand the needs of the commercial user of the Tesla product. If it delivers the operational savings promised, early customers like Hunt and Walmart will be delighted. Technicians too, because the electric drivetrain is so much less complicated than the emissions-saddled diesel powertrain. But drivers? They’ll hate it if they prefer ‘real’ trucks. But millennials – and that’s where the new drivers are to come from – will love them.