Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, disagree on a lot of things. The possibility of an all-electric long-haul truck is one of the areas where both entrepreneurs have divergent views. In an August 2020 post, Gates spoke passionately about achieving net-zero carbon emissions.
The Microsoft co-founder explained the progress made so far in short-haul travel and how EV batteries have seen an 85% price drop since 2010. However, he questions the possibility of achieving the same success with long-haul vehicles.
“Batteries are heavy and big which is a major challenge,” Gates wrote. “The more weight you’re trying to move, the more batteries you need to power the vehicle. But the more batteries you use, the more weight you add—and the more power you need.”
Instead of batteries, Gates suggested the use of cheap alternative fuels, especially biofuels, for long-haul vehicles. According to Gates, currently available biofuels differ significantly from first-generation biofuels like ethanol. He was optimistic that they could replace the use of gasoline and other fossil fuels.
Musk strongly disagrees with that opinion. The Tesla CEO took to Twitter on 27 November 2022 to announce that the “Tesla team just completed a 500-mile drive with a Tesla Semi weighing in at 81,000 pounds”.
The announcement marks an important milestone in the quest for zero-emission long-haul vehicles. It will also be the first time that a semi-truck would achieve such a range. Competitors like Daimler, Volvo, Mercedes, and Nikola have been unable to achieve the same range.
However, don’t expect the same range on all the Tesla Semis. The 500-mile range was for the high-end model which is priced at $180,000. The standard model with a price tag of $150,000 has a smaller range of 300 miles. Tesla plans to start shipping the Semi from 1st December 2022.
Bill Gates is not the only one that doubts the possibility of using batteries in long-haul vehicles. Martin Daum, the Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG joked that it would break the laws of physics for Tesla to meet the Semi’s target specs.
“If Tesla delivers on this promise, we will buy two trucks—one to test and the other to tear apart to see what eluded us. However, we know that the laws of physics still work in California and Germany,” Daum said.
Orders are already rolling in for the Tesla Semi
The tweet from the Tesla CEO announcing that Tesla Semi had completed a 500-mile trip seems to have overshadowed the fact that the release of the EVs was delayed. The first announcement of the Tesla Semi was in 2017. At that time, it was scheduled for release in 2019. However, it has been delayed until 1st December.
A lot of multinational companies that move goods around a lot like UPS and PepsiCo have already ordered hundreds of Tesla Semis. It is believed that the autonomous driving feature and lower complexity of Tesla Semis would make the movement of goods across the country safer and more efficient.
The brands are also banking on going electric to achieve zero emission targets. Speaking to investors, Musk said the goal of Tesla was to make 100,000 trucks annually. If Tesla can pull this off, it will transform the trucking company the way EVs have revolutionized the personal mobility vehicle sector.
Other efforts to electrify the trucking industry
Since a lot of people doubted the possibility of electrifying long-haul vehicles, several states across the United States have already started working on inductive charging systems that will be laid on paved roads such that trucks can charge as they travel. If it becomes a success, it will allow truck manufacturers to use smaller batteries.
Officials are planning to start testing the induction charging technology on public roads in Utah, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Florida starting from 2024. Wireless charging has been tried on a smaller scale and by private organizations. However, it has never been tested on public roads.