[Originally Published November 17, 2017]
Last night, the modern day Willy Wonka of non-culinary innovation, Elon Musk, revealed a ground-breaking advancement that will revolutionize interstate commerce, drastically improve highway safety, reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, and maybe even result in increased take home pay for freelance truckers. The Tesla Semi, capable of traveling 500 miles on a charge at highway speeds carrying a full load (80,000 pounds), can also climb a 5% grade at 65mph and (I hope you’re sitting down) gallop to 60mph in 5 seconds. Seconds. Not minutes. Seconds. Five.
As the oil industry is being chilled to the core right about now, they will undoubtedly try everything in their playbook to throw cold water (sure, pun intended) on this dream-turned-reality. Not only will the Tesla Semi out-perform any other semi on the road, and most passenger vehicles for that matter, it also brings to market life-saving safety features. For one, the elimination of an enormous tank of highly-flammable diesel fuel makes room for its massive battery units, the low-slung positions of which will lower the semi’s center of gravity and reduce instances of rollovers. The semi is also designed to torque each wheel appropriately when it detects instability, which will cut down drastically on jackknifing. Blind spot monitoring and surround view cameras help truckers identify potential hazards, and Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot features will aide drivers with emergency braking, lane keeping, and in the event of a medical emergency, will engage the flashers, slow the truck down safely, and alert the authorities.
Whew. It doesn’t seem real, does it? You may be thinking: That’s cool and all, but I’m not a trucker, so what’s in it for me? I’m glad you asked. Tucked into the trailer of the behemoth Semi was Tesla’s reboot of the game-changing roadster that catapulted the company to fame in 2008. Are you ready for these statistics? For starters, it’s a four-seater coupe with a removable top and all-wheel drive. It will slingshot drivers to 60mph in 1.9 seconds (no, you don’t need glasses) and will be capable of speeds over 250mph (though it will most likely be governed in the 100s) AND will be able to run 620 miles on a single charge. Now you’re thinking: Shut up and take my money! Well, the problem is that it probably will…all of it. The Tesla Roadster will carry a hefty price tag of $200,000. But, to be fair, a Bugatti Chiron is $2.7M, which is .5 seconds pokier to 60mph and has a combined EPA rating of 11mpg, which will barely take you 100 miles with the tenderest of throttle coddle.
So what does this mean for the EV world and the automotive industry in general? Will this affect those of us of average means who most likely will not be able to afford a Tesla in the foreseeable future?
Okay, full disclosure: I am a new (and very proud) owner of a Chevrolet Bolt EV, which is a four-passenger crossover vehicle (really more of a wagon), with tons of leg and headroom, a generous amount of cargo space, a 10.2″ touchscreen, all the latest safety technology…and it just so happens to rival the driving range of a base model Tesla S P85D and sprint to 60mph in just over 6 seconds, for about half the price. But, as several Tesla owners and fans have implied, it’s (arguably) not as sexy. That being said, my wife and I absolutely love its looks, it’s creature features, it’s ‘sleeper car’ performance, and the fact that we haven’t visited a gas station since we got it (even with our gas-powered car, as I filled up the day we got the Bolt so I could begin to gauge our yearly fuel savings).
Being the newly-minted EV geek that I am, I joined the two Chevy Bolt EV groups that I could find on Facebook. Although my initial impression felt like I had stumbled into a quarantine with other social outcasts, I quickly warmed to to the idea and truly value the resource of being able to poll other Bolt drivers, share exciting EV news, and educate the EV-curious about the wonders of giving up the pump. This morning, I shared the article about Tesla’s new Roadster, and it has since been met with equal amounts of awe, elation, anger, jealousy, and bitterness. In the drastically-polarized climate in which we currently live, many Bolt owners view Tesla as an opposing political party and will shoot down any positive news with conviction and disdain.
One commenter noted that — as we’ve already covered — Tesla routinely builds cars that the average person can’t afford. While that is a valid point, — because even with the arrival of the “moderately-priced” Tesla 3, people will be paying bank account-clearing premiums to get their hands on one — I countered that there are way more wealthy people who can afford a $200,000 car than a $2.7M car. Another commenter rebutted that for $200,000, it’s still nonetheless a rich person’s car and therefore unattainable and we shouldn’t give it another thought. “Maybe so,” I offered, “but with more wealthy people able to buy it, it will lead to wider acceptance of, and desire for EV technology, which will eventually bring prices down. I remember when only rich people could afford iPhones, and look at us now.”
Another comment that carried quite a bit of weight for me was one that pointed to Tesla’s lethargic production issues. It did take quite awhile for Tesla to churn out the abundance of S models we see freckling our roads these days, and there is quite a backlog of model 3 orders set to begin production next year. Musk has assured current and future customers that they are feverishly working to change that.
Conversely, there are at least (roughly) 2,500 Chevy Bolts currently available for sale/lease at dealerships across the US (according to a quick search on AutoTrader). Additionally, General Motors has way more cash on hand for R&D than Tesla — by about 3-to-1, and an exponentially greater amount of production facilities throughout the world. According to recent reports, GM is poised to release another 15–20 EVs within the next three years…just in time for the end of my Bolt lease.
Bottom line: However you feel about Elon Musk and Tesla, if they can make a lightning-fast, zero-emission semi and cram a 200kWh battery into a roadster, it should give us all great hope for the future of EVs and, hopefully, an end to our dependence on ever-dwindling nonrenewable fossil fuels and a brighter tomorrow.