Early Comparison Review: Tesla Semi vs. Diesel Semi Trucks

Will Tesla’s energy-efficient big rigs really be able to outperform traditional diesel semi trucks?

Tesla Electric Semi Truck vs Diesel Semi Trucks
This month Tesla revealed the world’s first-ever electric semi truck in a direct challenge to diesel semi trucks everywhere. While addressing an excited crowd at a Tesla facility in Hawthorne, California, CEO Elon Musk promised to revolutionize the hauling industry with a better, cleaner design – along with many other large claims. Companies like Walmart and the Canadian grocery chain Loblaws have already shown interest by placing small test fleet orders, but will Tesla’s energy-efficient semis really be able to outperform diesel semi trucks upon its promised 2019 release date?

Tesla Electric Charging StationTesla, famous for their electric cars, is now ready to make electric big rigs.


According to Tesla’s numbers, their electric semi truck will have no problems competing with diesel rivals. These battery-powered, Class 8 heavy duty semi trucks can go from zero to 60 mph in just five seconds bobtailing or with an empty trailer. With a full trailer of 80,000 pounds, the Tesla semi can reach 60 within 20 seconds – four times slower than before, but still faster than diesel semi trucks.

Tesla semis can also easily handle grades of up to 5 percent while traveling 65 mph (highway speeds, in other words). This is due to four motors powering each wheel which are, in turn, connected to two rear axles sitting behind the cab. These motors can automatically change the wheel’s torque to prevent jackknifing accidents, and even if two of these motors are damaged, these semis still reportedly cost less to operate than a diesel truck.


Not only will these electric semis be faster, but they will also be 20% cheaper to run according to Elon Musk. An electric semi will cost $1.26 per mile compared to $1.51 for diesel trucks.

As NPR points out, however, this estimate relies on diesel remaining at $2.50 per gallon and electricity remaining at 7 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) while traveling at 60 mph with a maximum load. 7 cents per kilowatt hour is at the absolute bottom end of the spectrum for electricity though with many states being between 10 to 20 cents per kilowatt. And in Europe, the price per kilowatt is much more with Germans paying nearly 30 cents per kilowatt hour.

Other Advantages

Though the numbers crunched by Tesla may be subject to change, some basic principles stay the same. An electric semi has less moving parts – in fact, Tesla is so confident in its design that it’s giving a million-mile guarantee on all drive systems – less expensive fuel and absolutely no tailpipe pollution. This means less maintenance, lower operating costs, and no more expensive forced upgrading to the latest EPA-compliant engine.

The Tesla semi’s battery, which is located under the floor of the cab to add more space, can hold 500 miles per charge. A 300-mile version is also available for less money. This battery is enough to accommodate most local trucking deliveries on one charge, effectively making the Tesla semi an environmentally-friendly day cab (though an electric sleeper is rumored to be in the works).

Long Empty RoadTesla has a long road ahead of them if they want to become America’s trucking company.


The 500-mile charge is where Tesla’s first design limitation becomes obvious. Diesel trucks can get over 600 miles out of a full tank, and fueling up is much faster with a diesel truck than with a Tesla. An electric big rig takes a half-hour just to reach 80% of its charge – that’s a long time in the trucking world, where every second matters.

Tesla has also yet to announce an asking price, which could indicate that these electric big rigs are much more expensive than diesel semi trucks.

Other Features

The new Tesla semi will also have . . .
  • Centered Driving – The driver’s seat sits squarely in the center of the vehicle with two seats to the left and right. This allows the driver to watch two touch screens on the left and right of the dashboard.
  • Live Feedback – The two screens show the left and right sides of the truck using cameras. This is part of the automated driving system, though details are scarce at this time.
  • Semi-autonomous Driving – There’s not much information available on this yet, but with the recent self-parking technological breakthroughs with other vehicles, speculation abounds.
  • Thermonuclear Explosion-Proof Windshield – You will never have to worry about getting pulled over for cracks in your window again knowing that your glass strong enough to survive a thermonuclear explosion.

Can Tesla Deliver the Goods?

Tesla has been recently accused of not being able to meet the demand for their Model 3 luxury sports car, though they have blamed the perceived shortage on a delay from one of their console manufacturers. Still, should the company fail to quickly manufacture enough electric semi trucks, Cummins or Daimler will gladly pick up the slack.

With other major brands investing in electric big rigs, the long reign of diesel semi trucks could finally be coming to an end. Do you think Tesla will successfully bring electric semi trucks into the mainstream, or will the diesel trucking industry prevail over its newest form of competition? Let us know in the comments on Facebook.
By on
About Kyler Richman
Kyler is a reporter and staff writer at My Little Salesman.
Company profiles
More in Trucking News