Elon Musk unveils Tesla electric truck – and a surprise new sports car

Using diesel trucks now ‘economic suicide’, says Musk – but questions persist over company’s capacity to meet demand

Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s first electric semi-truck on Thursday evening at an event in Los Angeles that also included the surprise reveal of a new Tesla sports car.

The new Roadster, which has the same name as the first electric vehicle produced by Tesla from 2008 to 2012, emerged from the back of one of the trucks at the end of a presentation that focused largely on the economic and performance needs of truck drivers.

“The point of doing this is just to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars,” Musk said. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”

While the sports car provided a jolt of excitement for Tesla enthusiasts, much of the event focused on pitching the truck to truck drivers – customers with very different concerns than the average Tesla owner.

In typical Musk style, the CEO had hyped the truck on Twitter throughout the week. On Sunday, he promised that it “will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension”, while on Wednesday he teased that the truck “can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte”.

There was no espresso machine to be seen, but Musk did promise a laundry list of features that he claimed would ensure the overall cost of ownership will be 20% less per mile compared with diesel trucks. Among them: faster acceleration, better uphill performance, a 500-mile (805km) range at maximum weight at highway speed, and “thermonuclear explosion-proof glass” in the windshield.

Safety features include enhanced autopilot, lane-keeping technology, and a design that makes jackknifing “impossible”, Musk said.

The presentation included the surprise reveal of a new Tesla sports car.
The presentation included the surprise reveal of a new Tesla sports car. Photograph: Alexandria Sage/Reuters

The company plans to build a network of “Megachargers” (as opposed to the “Superchargers” used by other Tesla vehicles) that can produce a 400-mile charge in 30 minutes.

Musk claimed it would be “economic suicide” to continue using diesel trucks, saying the Tesla version, if driven in convoy, would be cheaper than shipping goods by rail.

The CEO’s promises for the new Roadster were no less ambitious. Musk said the car’s acceleration from 0 to 60 mph and 0 to 100 mph, as well as its quarter-mile speed, were all “world records” for production cars.

He said production on the trucks would begin in 2019 and the sports cars would be available in 2020.

Despite the confidence exuded by Musk, questions will undoubtedly arise about the company’s capacity to manufacture the new vehicles.

Tesla debuted its first mass-market sedan, the Model 3, to much fanfare in July, when the waitlist for the vehicle already numbered more than 500,000. Since then, production has not gone smoothly.

In the third quarter of 2017, the company produced just 260 Model 3s – well below the 1,500 it had promised in August. Tesla blamed “production bottlenecks” for the delays. The Wall Street Journal reported that as recently as September, the cars were still being built by hand, rather than on an automated assembly line.

Some workers at the company’s Fremont, California factory are attempting to unionise with the United Auto Workers in a campaign that chiefly cites the factory’s above-average injury rates. The company has also been hit with a number of complaints and lawsuits by employees and contractors alleging gender and racial discrimination.

On Tuesday, the company hit back at media coverage of the complaints, and argued that the attorney representing some plaintiffs has a record of “extorting money for meritless claims”.

“At Tesla, we would rather pay 10 times the settlement demand in legal fees and fight to the ends of the earth than give in to extortion and allow this abuse of the legal system,” the company said in a blog post.

Competition in the electric truck market has been heating up. In September, Daimler AG announced the delivery of its first electric trucks to the United Parcel Service (UPS). Other companies working on electric trucks include Volkswagen, Cummins and Nikola.


Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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