Can Elon Musk deliver on his vision for a fully electric, self-driving big rig?
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, November 17, 2017 2:57PM EST
Tesla CEO Elon Musk knows how to spin a good yarn, but can he deliver on his vision to revolutionize the trucking industry with an electric big rig with self-driving features?
Marketing expert Tony Chapman says Musk has taken a page out of the handbook of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs when it comes to capturing attention with storytelling and design.
“He realizes that, in this age of noise, when so much and so many things are competing for our attention, you have to have something that stands out. It’s a gorgeous truck,” said Chapman.
The Tesla truck will have an 800-km range even fully loaded with the maximum 36,000 kg of cargo, promises Musk. He also promises Tesla Autopilot features, which can maintain a cruising speed and slow down automatically when required, while checking blind spots and keeping in its lane.
“The big question, obviously with Musk always is, nobody doubts his visionary abilities or his design capabilities, but can he execute? He fell far short last quarter, again, in producing this mainstream car and now he’s launching a new truck and a roadster. People are wondering are you just focused on painting the future or are you actually going to create canvases that we can commercialize and monetize?”
Customers are facing waits of 18 months or more for Tesla’s Model 3, the company’s new lower-cost sedan. Musk is also delving into pickup trucks and SUVs, space exploration, high-speed “hyperloop” trains and solar panels, leaving many questioning whether he’s taking on too much. Meanwhile, the company posted a record loss of US$619 million in its most recent quarter.
But Chapman says visionaries like Musk will force modern society to confront some fundamental questions. Technology like this could displace some massive industries employing millions of people, including fossil fuels, vehicle manufacturing and servicing, not to mention the jobs of more than 3.5 million who drive trucks in the United States alone.
“Technology that used to enable mankind is now displacing it in record numbers,” Chapman told CTV News Channel on Friday.
No one has an answer for what even one per cent of truck drivers are going to do if driverless vehicles become a reality on the roads.
“We as a society, very quickly, have to come to terms with a philosophical (idea): can we live without work? We’ve defined ourselves in western society by our work. Are we going to find a new purpose to life? Who’s going to pay for it? How are we going to survive? And that’s a conversation that people like Musk are forcing us to have today because the future is not 30 or 40 years from now, it’s banging down our door, if not already sticking its fingers through the cracks.”
Automotive journalist Petrina Gentile at the Globe and Mail says there are still some practical questions to be answered about the new semi, which Musk says will begin production in 2019. No price has been revealed and it’s unclear how quickly so-called megachargers can be deployed.
“This is the biggest problem. Infrastructure just isn’t there now and everything he’s promised to date has been so delayed.”