Tesla Semi “Crushes” SuperTruck 2 in Real-World Efficiency

Tesla exec asserts it’s time to scale its battery-electric truck, while other industry experts comment on other paths to decarbonization.

Tesla Semi at 2024 ACT Expo Ride & Drive event. (Ryan Gehm)

Usually hosted in Southern California, the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo moved about 265 miles (425 km) north and east for its latest edition, taking place in Las Vegas from May 20-23. Interestingly, that distance challenges the range limits of most Class 8 battery-electric trucks, particularly if traversing hilly terrain or hauling heavy loads.

The 300-mile (480-km) version of the Tesla Semi has an “attainable” tare weight of less than 20,000 lb (9070 kg) while the long-range configuration is reportedly capable of being less than 23,000 lb (10,400 kg). (Ryan Gehm)

One electric truck capable of covering such a stretch – with its estimated range of up to 500 miles (805 km) fully loaded at 82,000 lb GCW – is the Tesla Semi, which made its trade-show debut at the ACT Expo. “Achieving strong range-to-mass ratios is only possible with a dedicated, purpose-built, ground-up electric platform – exactly what the Semi is. There’s no wasted space, the powertrain and the vehicle work hand in hand,” Dan Priestley, senior manager of engineering for the Tesla Semi, said during a keynote in Las Vegas.

Dan Priestley, senior manager of engineering for the Tesla Semi, stressed that charging is core to Tesla, and that goes for the trucking side of the business as well. (Ryan Gehm)

Priestley, who’s been leading the Tesla Semi program since the platform was announced in 2017, presented a slide showing the “attainable” tare weights for its planned high-volume production trucks “based on learnings we’ve had thus far.” The 300-mile (480-km) version of the Semi has an attainable tare weight of less than 20,000 lb (9070 kg) while the long-range configuration is capable of being less than 23,000 lb (10,400 kg).

Tesla Semis have accumulated 3.5 million miles (5.6 million km) to date. PepsiCo is using the electric trucks to haul beverages – not just chips, Priestley emphasized – and Tesla is running the Semi in its own supply chain operations – for example, hauling battery packs from its gigafactory in Nevada to support its Fremont, California, factory. “Two years ago, this route was one-hundred percent diesel. We are now electrifying it,” Priestley said. The route is challenging, he noted, passing through Donner Pass along I-80 and encountering both hot and cold weather conditions throughout the year.

Tesla’s Priestley claims the Semi is more efficient than SuperTruck 2 vehicles. Kenworth revealed its SuperTruck 2 demonstrator vehicle, which achieved up to 12.8 mpg, at ACT Expo. (Ryan Gehm)
Peterbilt’s Jason Skoog stresses that infrastructure development – be it for charging or hydrogen fueling – must accelerate for those technologies to reach their potential. (Ryan Gehm)

“SuperTruck 2 [participants] are hitting their [freight efficiency] targets. Last year’s Tesla Semi fleet outpaced them. And if we load up the vehicle to max weight, we crush it even farther,” Priestley said. “Across the fleet, we’re seeing an average of 1.7 kWh per mile. Even in heavy-haul applications, we’re seeing less than 2 kWh per mile.”

For reference, Kenworth revealed its SuperTruck 2 at the ACT Expo, stating the demonstrator vehicle improved freight efficiency by up to 136% compared to its 2009 T660 model and achieved up to 12.8 mpg.

Priestley also stressed that charging is core to Tesla, and that goes for the trucking side of the business as well. “We’ve demonstrated that megawatt-level fast charging is available, reliable, safe and unlocks next-level economics,” Priestley said. “We have this deployed in the field today and are actively using it. What this does is it unlocks operational equivalence between diesel and electric. [Fleets] can swap one for one in operations.”

Deere’s 944 X-Tier hybrid-electric wheel loader operates 12 hours/day or more in a quarry, an application not suitable for battery-electric. (John Deere)
Diesel technology development cannot be neglected, said John O’Leary, president and CEO at Daimler Truck North America. (Ryan Gehm)

“This pilot fleet, and everything that goes along with it – infrastructure, servicing, etc. – has shown that we are technologically ready. Electrification can be done,” Priestley asserted. “Now it’s time for scaling.” Tesla is building a factory in Nevada that will begin higher-volume customer deliveries in 2026, he said, ramping to an eventual target capacity of 50,000 units per year.

Opining on future of propulsion

Battery-electric trucks were not the only topic of discussion at the ACT Expo. Following are a few additional compelling quotes from industry experts on fuels and propulsion technologies that likely will contribute to the decarbonization of trucking and off-highway sectors in the future – if not already.

Hydrogen – “If hydrogen is going to be a solution, then we’ve got to have more of that infrastructure done now. It’s almost like a Field of Dreams moment – ‘If you build it, we will come.’ It could be the best technology out there, and hydrogen ICE is really great but if you can’t fuel it, it’s not going to be an option,” said Jason Skoog, general manager at Peterbilt.

Hybridization – “There’s some areas where pure battery-electric may not be feasible, may not be ready in its current state, but hybridization will be a great solution in those situations,” said Grant Van Tine, product manager, electric vehicles, John Deere Construction. He referenced a 944 X-Tier hybrid-electric wheel loader that operates 12 hours/day or more in a quarry: “If we could even make it battery-electric – which we physically cannot package that many batteries in this machine – it would add another 54,000 pounds to [the 120,000-lb machine] and cost three to four times what it is today.”

Renewable fuel – “We looked at our operations in California, eighty percent of our fleet leverages HVOs [hydrotreated vegetable oils, also known as renewable diesel or green diesel],” said Dan Purefoy, chief supply chain officer, Sysco. “We would love to try to expand that into other markets. We’ve seen that to be a challenge so far – the cost is still heavy with supply outside of California. That is an area if it were able to take off and expand across the country, we would definitely take advantage of that.”

Renewable diesel is more readily available in California, but trucking fleets looking to expand its use across the country will have to wait until production catches up. (U.S. EIA)

Diesel – “The diesel business is paying for all of this, quite honestly,” said John O’Leary, president and CEO at Daimler Truck North America. “We will gladly reinvest that into the future, but without that there’s no ability to reinvest in the future.”