Tesla CEO Elon Musk begins delivering the primary semi-trucks

Tesla CEO Elon Musk begins delivery of the company’s heavy-duty truck, the Semi, at the Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

Tesla Inc.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk began deliveries of the company’s first production semi-trucks on Thursday when he spoke with Dan Priestly, the company’s senior manager of semi-truck engineering, on the stage at the company’s Sparks, Nevada, factory.

As CNBC previously reported, Tesla set up assembly lines earlier this year outside of Reno at the site where it primarily manufactures the battery cells, drive units and battery packs that power its cars, and started production of the Semi. Musk and Tesla didn’t say Thursday how many Semis they’re shipping.

Tesla originally showed the semi design in December 2017. Production was delayed by the Covid pandemic and battery cell supply problems, among other things.

During the deliveries launch event, Musk briefly alluded to the turmoil of the last five years and quipped, “Sorry for the delay.”

He later thanked and handed the microphone to representatives of PepsiCo Fried Laywhich is Tesla’s first customer to receive and use production tractor units.

A key difference between Tesla’s Class 8 offering and other heavy-duty trucks is the position of the steering wheel and driver’s seat. Instead of using the left-hand side (or right-hand side in Europe), Tesla designed the Semi with the steering wheel in the center of the cabin with touchscreens on either side of the driver.

While the Tesla Semi was in development, other all-electric heavy-duty trucks were coming onto the market.

Volvoowned by Renault Trucks and Daimler before Tesla produced heavy-duty electric trucks and delivered them to customers. Even besieged Nicola — whose founder has been ousted in recent months and convicted of fraud — began producing a battery-electric truck in March.

But Tesla has some high-tech features not available elsewhere, including a new fast-charging system and a longer-range battery than the competition. The DC fast charging system delivers up to 1MW and uses a water-based coolant to ensure it delivers that power safely. Tesla says the Semi can go 500 miles on a single charge when fully loaded.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk displays the Tesla Semi as he introduces the company’s new electric semi truck during a presentation in Hawthorne, California November 16, 2017.

Alexandria sage | Reuters

The new fast-charging technology will eventually be installed at Tesla SuperCharging stations and used to charge Cybertrucks, the consumer pickup truck Tesla is planning, Musk revealed. The company plans to mass-produce the sharp-edged, heavy-duty pickup truck at its new Austin, Texas facility.

A return to form

The Tesla Semi event could bring some relief to fans concerned about its commitment and focus on the electric vehicle business.

Musk recently assumed new responsibilities as owner and CEO of Twitter, the social media giant he acquired in a leveraged buyout for $44 billion in October. He sold some of his sizable Tesla stock to fund this deal. Since taking over Twitter, he has been involved in several conflicts and controversies surrounding this platform.

Musk returned to his form on Thursday, speaking to Tesla’s environmental mission and the company’s automotive engineering.

Tesla's chief designer on Elon Musk, the cybertruck and the future of car design

There are about 15 million passenger cars and about 200,000 heavy trucks in the US. “It seems like a small percentage,” he said, but semi-trucks do because of their size, weight and the fact that they’re driven 24/7 , accounts for a large proportion of harmful vehicle emissions.

These emissions can have devastating health effects on people living near warehouses, ports and other truck-heavy roads.

According to transportation and air quality research by the American Lung Association, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (such as pickup trucks, short-haul and long-haul trucks) accounted for about 6% of the US road fleet in 2020. These vehicles generate an outsize amount of pollution, including 59% of the Ozone and particle-forming nitrogen oxide emissions and 26% of greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

Musk said that not only would the Semi help fight climate change, but “it’s quiet, improves the quality of your air, and improves the health of people who live near highways.”

Ditto for other heavy-duty electric trucks displacing diesel trucks.

Musk and other executives did not speak at the Semi Delivery event about Tesla’s driver assistance systems, which are marketed as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability. When Musk debuted the Semi in 2017, he was touting a driverless truck future.

Nor have they talked about how many trucks they plan to produce next year or how they will obtain the additional battery cells and raw materials to produce them.

Shares in Elon Musk’s auto business closed flat at $194.70 ahead of the event, not moving significantly in after-hours trading.

Watch the full delivery event here.

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