Tesla will build heavy trucks at a new plant in Nevada
Tesla will build a factory in northern Nevada that will make electric tractor-trailers, the company announced Tuesday, putting pressure on traditional truckmakers like Daimler and Volvo that are just starting to sell battery-powered vehicles.
The plant, along with a new battery plant, will add 3,000 employees to an existing Tesla plant east of Reno. Tesla said it would invest $3.6 billion in the truck factory and the new factory to build the company’s most advanced battery cells.
The factory build signals that Tesla is serious about the tractor-trailer, which it unveiled in 2017 but has so far built in limited numbers. In December, Tesla delivered a few trucks to PepsiCo, its first customer.
Manufacturers like Daimler Truck, Volvo and Traton, a unit of Volkswagen, have said they are committed to producing vehicles that generate zero tailpipe emissions, but diesel-powered trucks still dominate the industry.
If the Tesla Truck is successful, it could put the same kind of pressure on established truck makers that automakers have suffered from Tesla’s electric cars and sport utility vehicles. The success of Tesla cars forced General Motors, Ford Motor, Volkswagen and other automakers to respond with their own electric vehicles, shaking up the industry.
But it’s unclear how many truck buyers will switch to electric vehicles and how quickly. Fleet owners pay close attention to the cost of ownership of the vehicles they buy, carefully calculating the price of fuel, maintenance and driver downtime. Tesla’s tractor-trailer will likely cost more to buy than a conventional heavy-duty truck and will only be attractive if customers think they can make up the difference by reducing fuel and maintenance expenses.
Tesla advertises that its truck will have a range of 500 miles, which likely makes it more suitable for relatively short trips. There is no comprehensive charging network for trucks. Until a network exists, the tractor-trailer is likely to appeal primarily to customers who drive trucks from depots where they can recharge overnight.
Daimler, owner of Freightliner Trucks, is banking on hydrogen fuel cells as the best way to eliminate tailpipe emissions from long-haul trucks. Volvo, the world’s second largest truck maker after Daimler, is pursuing a similar strategy. But neither has started mass-producing hydrogen trucks, and hydrogen remains much more expensive than diesel.
News of Tesla’s decision to build the truck plant emerged Monday when Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo mentioned it during a speech.