clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Everything we learned from the Tesla Semi and Roadster event

New, 39 comments

The Roadster may have overshadowed the reveal that was supposed to overshadow other Tesla news

Tesla

Doubts that Elon Musk would be unable to put on a raucous reveal party were put to rest late Thursday night. Amid Tesla’s “production hell” this fall, the automaker delivered two beacons of hope for the California-based company’s future.

The Tesla Semi drew excitement from the crowd at the Hawthorne, California facility, as people eagerly waited for Musk to emerge from the big truck. But the surprise showing of the second-generation Tesla Roadster caused explosive cheers from the second its headlights switched on.

The excitement served as a distraction from the company’s financial and production problems for the moment. (Musk was also not nearly as energetic as he was back at the Model 3’s delivery event in July.) But his spirits were unquestionably lifted as hundreds of beaming Tesla fans projected their hope for the company’s ambitious future plans.

The Tesla Semi truck’s claimed range comfortably beat early expectations. At 500 miles, it’s roughly twice what Reuters claimed in August. It’s also more than double what Cummins and Daimler have promised so far in their planned electric trucks. That figure, and the promise of solar-powered “Megachargers” to give 400 miles of range in 30 minutes — supplementing the existing Supercharger network — should help put to rest concerns that an electric truck is impractical for hauling outside of cities.

In another attempt to put fleet managers at ease, Musk said the semi could go for 1 million miles without a breakdown, which will undoubtedly test the company’s reputation for quality. The botched launch of the Model X and its elaborate Falcon Doors, as well as reports of Model S and Model 3 cars having build-quality problems, could scare off customers in an industry that likely holds reliability and low ownership costs higher than car buyers. Yet, that hasn’t deterred a number of fleet operators —some of whom were in the audience Thursday night — from putting down preorders for a truck that isn’t even planned to start production until 2019.

While the Tesla Semi is equipped with Enhanced Autopilot, Tesla says it isn’t fully self-driving, and has moved away from claims of a self-driving truck. In fact, it spent a lot of time talking about how driver-centric it was with its center-mounted seat and space for people inside the cab. Part of that may be a backpedaling of Autopilot’s ambitions following a stern government ruling earlier this year. It may also be an appeal to the truck-driving industry in its protection of jobs.

As energized as Musk was about the semi, the whole audience was decisively more interested in the surprise at the end of the show.

Image: Tesla

The second-generation Roadster wasn’t completely unexpected, though: Musk has hinted at a revival of the sports car that established his company’s reputation for performance-oriented electric cars. That first effort, built with heavy assistance from Lotus Cars in Britain, however, has become somewhat of a distant memory since production ended in 2012. Now, Tesla wants it to be a homegrown halo car to follow up its mainstream lineup.

Well, at least what Tesla hopes its lineup will look like in 2020. You can reserve a Tesla Roadster now, with a $50,000 deposit on its estimated $200,000 base price, or pick up one of the 1,000 more powerful Founders Series cars by paying the full $250,000 now.

Let’s be honest: this is a fundraising drive for Tesla’s most loyal, trusting, and wealthiest customers. But it also has all the things that make people dream of supercars. After all the tire smoke had cleared, Musk boasted of the Roadster’s 0–60 mph time of 1.9 seconds and top speed of at least 250 mph. It’s well on its way to making it the fastest car in the world.

But there’s another big claim about the new Tesla Roadster: its 620-mile range. Musk claims that’s Los Angeles to San Francisco and back in one charge, a significant milestone for an electric car. Even most gasoline-fueled cars can’t travel that far without stopping at a pump. While the first Roadster proved electric cars could be quick and striking to look at (even with a relatively small range), the new Roadster aims to ask why the internal combustion engine needs to be around anymore.

Of course, unanswered questions loom ominously above both the Semi and the Roadster, like “how much is that truck going to be?” and “who’s going to wait three years for a Roadster?” Then there’s the whole issue of the Model 3 and when its problems will be ironed out, especially to those who were among the first in line for a car promised to be churning out of the factory at a rate of 5,000 per week at this point. There’s also the fact that Tesla is burning cash at a staggering rate right now.

But last night’s event at least gave visual clues about the company Musk wants Tesla to be at the start of the new decade. There’s a fun and functional side with both the Roadster and Semi, and further proof Tesla wants to be in every corner of the transportation world.