Elon Musk Asks Customers To Pay Now For A Semi That Won’t Be Built For Two Years

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Tesla customers who want first dibs on an electric-powered semi truck must plunk down thousands of dollars on deposits for the not-yet produced vehicle, the company’s CEO Elon Musk said Thursday night.

Customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semi now and production will begin in 2019, Musk told an audience at the truck’s unveiling. Tesla used a similar scheme to help finance the supposedly inexpensive Model 3, that is still wallowing around in “production hell.”

The new semi truck hauling a full load of cargo has the capacity to travel nearly 500 miles before requiring an electric charge, Tesla noted. Diesel trucks can travel much further than what the new Tesla semi, raising questions about new vehicle’s ability to compete in a niche market.

Still, Musk exuded confidence about the truck’s potential.

“We’re confident that this is a product that’s better in every way from a feature standpoint,” Musk said. He didn’t reveal the semi’s price or the size of the truck’s lithium-ion battery – analysts are concerned production on large Tesla batteries are damaging the environment.

Tesla uses Panasonic batteries, most of which are produced using graphite derived from mines in the northeastern section of China, where 75 percent of the world’s graphite is obtained. Tesla denies using graphite from Chinese mines, but refuses to identify its graphite source.

Strip mining the material results in graphite particles raining down on the residents of several villages in northeastern parts of the country. Another issue confronting the company is the potential size of the truck’s battery.

Electric vehicles have a limited range of about 250 miles per charge, but the Tesla Semi would have an even shorter range. The truck would need an enormous 23-ton lithium-ion battery to power it the 500-mile range most semis achieve, according to German engineering firm Siemens.

The truck itself is constructed in a marvel way. Its driver (or passenger) is seated in the center, rather than on either side of the cab, with large touch screens on each side. The semi’s drive systems are guaranteed to last for 1 million miles, Tesla said.

Wall Street analysts are a little more realistic about the semi’s chances than Musk, who is struggling to juggle production on the fledgling Model 3 on one side, solar panels for the financially beleaguered SolarCity, and now electric-powered semi trucks.

“He’s got so much on his plate right now. This could present another distraction from really just making sure that the Model 3 is moved along effectively,” Bruce Clark, a senior vice president and automotive analyst at Moody’s, told reporters about the tech-entrepreneur’s plan.

Tesla delivered only 220 Model 3s exclusively to employees and investors during the fourth quarter, a number well below the 1,300 that analysts surveyed by FactSet expected on average.

Production on the highly touted vehicle was expected to expand from 100 cars in August to 1,500 in September, and plateau to 20,000 per month in December. Musk plans to eventually build 20,000 cars per month. Tesla produced roughly 85,000 vehicles in 2016 and plans to make half a million in 2018.

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