The Tesla Semi-trailer truck press launch on November 17th
, 2017 wowed a hanger full of tech enthusiasts who likely have never stepped foot inside a logistics office or an actual semi themselves. I mean come on, when was the last time you heard a logistician cheer and scream in that manner? The first of its kind electric semi boasts the following impressive claims:
- 500 miles of range on a full charge at maximum weight
- 30 minute charge time to 80% capacity
- 0-60mph in five seconds with an empty trailer
- 60mph in 20 seconds with a max load of 80,000lbs
- A one million mile warranty
- No brake pads to replace
- No transmission to replace
- Nuclear explosion-proof glass
- Zero emissions – the big one!
All resulting in Tesla claiming for their semi to have a true cost-of-trucking at least 20% lower than a traditional diesel truck. However, things get interesting when platooning, or convoying as Elon Musk calls it, is taken into account. What is Platooning?
Put simply: platooning is how semi-autonomous vehicles will disrupt the logistics industry, driving down prices all the way down the supply chain to the end user, laying off many truck drivers in the process. Platooning trucks and trailers is similar to rail transport. The driver-equipped semi in the front acts as a locomotive, while autonomous trucks are pulled behind using radio frequencies acting as rail cars. This leads to the cost savings associated with not requiring a driver, their subsequent salary and benefits, to operate every truck.
That said, while Musk claims Tesla has already developed this technology and is confident it will result in 10x higher highway safety for truckers and commuters, there are many unclear details as to how platooning will operate. My questions include:
- Will the platooning semis have to be equipped with drivers? That would defeat the purpose of autonomous vehicles
- If not, what will the cabins look like? Will there even be a cabin? You wouldn’t really need one…
- What is the maximum number of trailers that can platoon behind one driver equipped semi?
- Will Megacharge stations have the ability to handle the semi numbers associated with multiple platoons? Will this cause excessive wait times at Megacharge stations?
In platooning, or “convoying”, the Tesla Semi is said to poses half the true cost-of-trucking of a diesel truck. Musk claims a platoon of Tesla electric Semis can beat the price of rail, while the convoy would remain far more flexible, not being tied to a network of railways. This is not particularly fair to diesel trucks, as it is only a matter of time until they too will gain the ability to platoon.
In reality, many limitations regarding platoon trailer size will likely be caused by government restrictions, as we all know that technology moves exceptionally faster than government regulation. Also, don’t expect to see a convoy of any number of semi-autonomous trailers blocking up your city’s downtown core any time soon. Platoons will only be utilized for long-haul trips on major highways and possibly in remote areas, at least in its primary stages. Drivers will certainly be required for shunting purposes, in a way acting as tug boat operators within the distribution centre lot and for last mile delivery if the convoy is to split up. Some have proposed integrated offices in the cabin, so that drivers who are being platooned (and are therefore not driving) can perform logistics documentation and paperwork. However, I have a hard time believing 4PL logistic companies will pay to train all their drivers to perform work already performed by their centralized logistics coordinators.