If you were genuinely a Tesla Motors early adopter (buying a Roadster or an early Model S), or if you just frequented the Tesla Motors Club forum much before the release of the Model X, you are very likely familiar with the name Jerome Guillen.
However, if you came to the party a bit later than these super-early adopters, you may have never seen the name Jerome Guillen before.
Sometime after leaving Daimler in 2010, Jerome joined Tesla as “Acting VP, Vehicle Engineering” (in January 2012). That didn’t last too long — just 1 year and 1 quarter — because Jerome was quickly promoted to head up Tesla’s entire Model S program, reporting directly to Elon. After nearly 3 years in that position, he moved on to become Tesla’s VP of worldwide sales and service.
Tesla owners raved about Jerome, absolutely loved him. If you had an issue, email Jerome — that was the recommendation of many an owner. “Jerome will solve the problem.” He was extremely responsive on email and got the job done, often with a cherry on top. I hesitate to say he was more praised than Elon among Tesla owners, but sometimes it seemed like that.
Just as the production version of the Model X was going to be revealed, though, Jerome went on leave. Say what?
Tesla owners, reservation holders, and enthusiasts were concerned. “What happened?! Jerome was the best!” Questions arose around the possibility of him getting burnt out, of him not agreeing with certain decisions and plans regarding Model X (and not wanting to deal with the backlash), and of him being responsible for massive Model X screw-ups and getting kicked out. Naturally, only a handful of people probably know for sure why Jerome went on leave at that time, but one thing seems clear: many owners and fans were disappointed to find out about the news.
At one point not long after Jerome went on leave, a Tesla owner ran into him at a Supercharger station. The report back was more about inferences than any explicit details from Jerome (Jerome reportedly kept his responses vague), but the general point that was relayed to the other forum members wasn’t super uplifting, as it seemed to indicate some version of one of the above explanations for his indefinite vacation away from Tesla.
For most of us, the next we heard of Jerome was just following the release of “Tesla Master Plan, Part Deux.” In a probe by Dana Hull, asking if Jerome was working on Tesla Transit, Elon spilled the beans: “Jerome is driving Tesla Semi & doing a great job with his team. At Daimler, he led their most successful semi truck program ever.”
Whether Jerome just got the vacation he needed and was then ready to sprint again, or he and Tesla had just elaborately planned how they’d keep Tesla Semi secret, who knows? But I don’t recall reading any speculation that Tesla was working on a semi truck business prior to Tesla Master Plan 2 — some suggestions that the company do so, but nobody guessing or getting any leaks about it.
If you were stalking Jerome on LinkedIn, you may have noticed earlier than Master Plan 2 that Jerome became “VP of Programs” in January 2016. I’d assume that actually means he’s helping to oversee various aspects of Tesla Master Plan 2 (the transit stuff, pickup truck, etc.), but Elon’s tweet makes it seem like his full-time gig is now to make Tesla Semi Trucks come to life.
Electric Semi Trucks … From Nikola Motor Company
People (commenters on CleanTechnica) have been arguing for electric semi trucks for years. They’ve done back-of-the-envelope calculations and shown an attractive case for electric semi trucks several times. But hey, we’re just armchair mathematicians and engineers (okay, some are legitimate, professional engineers, but they are not working on electric semi trucks in their careers). There seemed to be a strong case for an electric semi, but the assumption was typically that Tesla had far too much on its plate and would have to leave that for someone else — or get to it in a decade or so.
An aptly named “Nikola Motor Company” seemed to have stepped up to the plate, announcing the Nikola One commercial class 8 truck. It has made some big claims. Here’s a statement from this week:
“While other companies have recently announced battery-powered semi-trucks, those trucks are restricted to a range of only a couple hundred miles and four to eight hours of charging between stops,” said Founder and CEO Trevor Milton. “Nikola has engineered the holy grail of the trucking industry. We are not aware of any zero emission truck in the world that can haul 80,000 pounds more than 1,000 miles and do it without stopping. The Nikola One requires only 15 minutes of downtime before heading out for the next 1,000 miles.”
Claiming pretty wicked integration of expertise — in a way that makes it sound a bit like vaporware — Trevor explained why Nikola Motor Company is likely to be first to market:
“It requires a specific zero emission refinement process of fuel and gutsy engineering and product execution. A traditional manufacturer would have to partner with an oil company, environmental group, electric vehicle engineering firm, a broad spectrum of suppliers and a world-class consulting firm to have figured it out. At Nikola, all of our development and talent is under one roof.”
Hmm, attractive words. While the company talks about “zero emissions” in this press release, though, it needs to be highlighted that this truck concept is a plug-in hybrid that incorporates natural gas. It’s not a fully electric truck. It’s still a big step forward, but unlikely to be the route Tesla is going.
Nikola claimed two months ago to have pulled in $2.3 billion in reservations, “totaling more than 7,000 truck reservations with deposits.” More details include a monthly leasing price of $4000 to $5000. Additionally: “The first million miles of fuel under the lease is included with each truck sale, potentially offsetting 100% of the monthly cost. An average diesel burns approximately $400,000 in fuel and can rack up over $100,000 in maintenance costs over 1,000,000 miles. These costs are eliminated with the Nikola One lease. Now companies can have a zero emission truck with a return on their investment in the first month.”
That sounds pretty wicked. Tall claims call for strong evidence, though. At this point, we don’t have evidence, but we’ll see soon enough if it materializes. A prototype of the Nikola One is supposed to be unveiled on December 2 in Utah.
Tesla Semi Trucks
So, what exactly does Tesla have in the works? Does it compare to the claims of Nikola Motor Company? (Yes, I’ll admit — if both of these efforts do succeed, it’s going to get a bit weird writing about Nikola and Tesla as two different companies.)
Given Elon’s statement that Jerome led Daimler’s “most successful semi truck program ever,” one would think electrified Tesla semi trucks are going to blow the competition out of the water, but we’ll have to wait to see.
Elon had strong and titillating statements about the program last month: “We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”
Fun to operate? Hmm… what is in the works over there in Silicon Valley?
If all goes according to plan, it seems we’ll get an unveiling of Tesla Semi Trucks sometime next year. Who wants to speculate in the meantime?