During the recent unveiling of the Tesla Model Y, Elon Musk discussed the future Shanghai Gigafactory (Gigafactory 3). The Tesla Semi appears in renditions of the future factory. Was that just for illustration, or would the Tesla Semi be a good truck for the Chinese market?
The image above shows the Tesla Semis in the rendition of the Gigafactory. It took some zooming in and minor sharpening, but with their distinctive faces, the Semis are hard to mistake for other trucks. On the one hand, it could be possible that the Semis were included just for illustration and decoration, but the Chinese market might be a good fit for the Semi. It’s likely that Tesla would also sell the truck in that market. It certainly seems as though Tesla is planning to use the Semi for its own shipping needs. Indeed, Jerome Guillen, President of Automotive and head of the Semi program since the beginning, recently told CleanTechnica that Tesla was excited to use the truck first for company logistics.
Chinese Trucking Is Booming
Forbes explains just how powerful the industry is in China. It’s growing, and there are definitely growing pains. The market for medium- and heavy-duty trucks is over four times larger than in the United States. China’s economy is almost indescribably huge, and the inland areas being served by trucks is where much of the growth is.
This growth has, until recently, mostly been a local issue. Local truck builders serve local truckers, who make runs from their local area to and from larger manufacturing centers. The growth of e-commerce fuels growth in outlying areas, increasing the need for long-haul trucking. Now, Uber-like websites and apps are enabling independent truckers to find loads more effectively.
There is a broad variety of manufacturers with varying truck types available for sale.
The Chinese Government Is Responding To Environmental Issues
Look toward the edges of nearly any Chinese city, and you’ll find large parking lots filled with idling trucks, waiting for loads. The Chinese government is concerned about not only the congestion, but the emissions, which can be downright disgusting near larger lots.
In response, government officials are cracking down on overloaded trucks and requiring the purchase of newer, lower emission trucks to help reduce the issues. This may be a great opening for a Tesla Semi, but competition in that space will be stiff. BYD, already dominating the electric bus market inside and outside of China, is gearing up to be a big player.
It’s likely that the government will push for electrification of cargo trucking as part of its push to get rid of internal combustion sales entirely by 2040.
Lower Operating Costs Are Important
Despite arrests and crackdowns, Chinese truckers are protesting on and off. Driving trucks can be an incredibly difficult way to make a living in China. Work hours aren’t heavily regulated the way they are in the United States and other countries, and to make ends meet, some drivers are working for 24 hours and only sleeping for 4 hours. American semi trucks, with relatively large sleepers, are downright luxurious compared to the trucks Chinese drivers are using.
Between fuel costs, payments on trucks that had to be replaced, and stricter enforcement against overloading, truckers are taking home less and less. Many share small apartments with others in larger cities, and still don’t have enough to send home to cover the family’s bills.
A truck like the Tesla Semi could be a good fit here. Payments would be higher, but lower maintenance costs, lower fuel costs, and better safety systems could make a big difference. Enhanced Autopilot will not only help tired drivers stay in their lane and avoid collisions, but it would also safely bring the vehicle to a stop in the event a driver falls asleep completely.
While the Semi’s appearance in Musk’s slide might just be a fun illustration, the Chinese market is definitely a good fit for the Semi. It really boils down to whether Tesla wants to enter that market and whether the Chinese government will help support the transition.
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