Tesla Semi payload estimates suggest critics underestimated battery tech advancements

The Tesla Semi truck’s payload will be comparable to a Class 8 diesel truck, according to the company’s 2020 Impact report. The Semi’s payload estimates address one persistent critique about Tesla’s Class 8 truck.

Early critics of the Semi believed the truck was impossible to produce given the weight capacity limitations of heavy-duty trucks. Although total weight load capacities may differ, on average, the limit for Class 8 trucks is 80,000 pounds. The 80,000-pound capacity includes the weight of the truck and its payload.

With all-electric heavy-duty trucks, manufacturers would have to account for the weight of battery packs. The heavier the battery, the less payload an electric Class 8 truck would be able to carry.

Tesla Semi’s fast-charging system could be wireless

In 2017, many analysts and other experts concluded that the Semi would need a 600 kWh to 1,000 kWh battery pack to produce the truck’s 300 and 500-mile range variants. For perspective, Tesla’s 100 kWh battery packs typically weigh 1,300 pounds. So a 600 kWh pack would weigh almost 8,000 pounds.

However, Tesla has made notable advancements in battery technology since the Semi’s unveiling, including the introduction of the 4680 battery cells. According to Tesla’s estimates, 4680 cells are lighter but have a higher energy density, which could reduce the weight of the electric Semi.

Besides better battery technology, the trucking industry has also shifted since 2017. The United States and the European Union are now mulling over regulations in a world with electric vehicles, including all-electric trucks.

In its 2020 Impact Report, Tesla noted that the US and the EU approved higher weight allowances for heavy-duty electric trucks. In the EU, electric Class 8 trucks are allowed to be ~4,400 (2 tons) pounds heavier than diesel equivalents, while in the US, they were given an allowance of 2,000 pounds (0.9 tons).

The Tesla Semi’s production has been pushed back a few times since its 2017 unveiling. Elon Musk has stated that battery cell production is one of the bottlenecks causing delays in Semi production. A year after the pandemic, supply chain constraints, like the semiconductor shortage, contributed to the challenges in Semi production.

“The pace of the respective production ramps will be influenced by the successful introduction of many new product and manufacturing technologies, ongoing supply-chain related challenges and regional permitting. To better focus on these factories, and due to the limited availability of battery cells and global supply chain challenges, we have shifted the launch of the Semi truck program to 2022,” noted Tesla in its Q2 2021 Update Letter.

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