DHL Exec: Tesla Semi Trucks To Pay For Themselves In 1.5 Years

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While Tesla CEO Elon Musk has already been quoted as promising that the payback period for choosing an all-electric Tesla Semi offering over a conventional diesel truck would be just a few years time, not everyone is willing to take his word on the matter.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that an exec at DHL was recently quoted as saying that the payback period on the Tesla Semi — that is, the period of time that it takes to pay off the difference in initial costs as compared to a conventional diesel semi truck, before net savings kick in — would be under 1.5 years. Again, after 1.5 years, that means the company is benefiting from net savings … while using cleaner trucks.

To give the exact words, the President of Transportation at DHL Supply Chain, Jim Monkmeyer, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “We are estimating that we could have pay back within a year-and-a-half based on energy usage as well as lower maintenance cost.

“The maintenance savings can be enormous as well. Just because the engines are much simpler in terms of the number of parts and the complexities of the parts.”

Pretty much a ringing endorsement then, huh? DHL, as you’ll recall, placed an initial order of 10 Tesla Semi truck units to be used in a pilot testing program. Presuming that all goes well — and considering the potential savings to be had — DHL will likely place a large order for further units from Tesla.

Speaking about potential problems, though, Monkmeyer notes: “The biggest issue is going to be how is that grid provided and how is it supported and how quickly can we get a network out there for use nationwide, throughout North America, throughout the world. … That’s a big question mark. So that to me would be one limiting factor.”

That of course is all a reference to Tesla’s promised “Megacharger” network — which is meant to be a fast-charging network for the firm’s Semi truck, mirroring the Supercharger network for its personal vehicle offerings.

Reuters provides more: “Monkmeyer says he does not expect to buy just Tesla electric trucks, but the in-depth discussions on price and feasibility that DHL is running on the trucks are in line with several small and large international haulers who spoke to Reuters.

“A truck runs around 65,000–100,000 miles a year, and Tesla has promised a 20% saving on the per-mile operating costs truckers pay now, estimating its new Semi will cost $1.26 per mile compared to what it says are industry standards of around $1.51 for diesel trucks.

“Analysts, however, say the figures continue to evolve; the $1.51 cost assumes prices for diesel fuel and that fuel economy costs remain static. They also say fuel efficiency for diesel trucks is expected to advance further, with a compounding improvement in the high single digits by 2020, potentially limiting the cost savings advantage suggested by Tesla.”

The “analysts” that Reuters is referring to include the Jefferies analyst Stephen Volkmann, who they quoted as saying: “The problem is they (Tesla) are aiming at a moving target, and even with that the electric (trucks) would be lower cost (in terms of operation) but it wouldn’t be quite as big a difference.”

That’s a bit of a ridiculous statement, but then again, there are quite a lot of those going around as of late — with all “sides” of any argument that you care to consider seemingly lying freely about everything without any concern for truth or accountability.

Speaking specifically about the statement in question, though, what’s notable is the claim that operational costs for diesel semi trucks are going to somehow continue falling for the foreseeable future despite the fact that the technology is pretty much a mature one is a bit ridiculous. Furthermore, diesel vehicle producers have been cheating the system for years just to try to get their vehicles to comply with regulations.

The only way for this to make any sense is to assume that Volkmann is referring to the tech of companies such as Wrightspeed when speaking on the subject — but those solutions are by no means cheap either.

Also notable is that oil prices have begun rising again, which means that diesel fuel costs will start rising again as well — and thus, diesel semi truck operational costs will continue rising, another reason not to take the “moving target” argument all that seriously.

In all likelihood, operational costs for diesel semi trucks in the US have either flatlined, or will actually keep rising for the foreseeable future. Whether or not Tesla can come through with the Tesla Semi truck offering is its own question, but if it does fail, it will be down to the product itself and support infrastructure, not increasingly efficient diesel truck systems.

Editor’s note: Adding a bit of extra humor to this story, a Daimler exec in charge of trucks recently took a swipe at Tesla by claiming that the Tesla Semi claims somehow broke the laws of physics. As you may recall, DHL (Deutsche Post) is a fellow German company that tried to get German automakers to build electric delivery trucks for its urban use. After DHL was told that was impossible or unviable or such, it created its own startup to do the job — Streetscooter. There seems to be a lot of demand for its electric delivery trucks, but apparently DHL wanted something outside of its wheelhouse for long-distance use and is bullish about the Tesla Semi.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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