Tesla to build heavy-duty trucks at new plant in Nevada


Tesla will build a factory in northern Nevada to make electric tractor trailers, the company said Tuesday, putting pressure on traditional truck makers such as Daimler and Volvo to start selling battery-powered vehicles.

The plant, along with a new battery plant, will add 3,000 employees to Tesla’s factory east of Reno. Tesla said it will invest $3.6 billion in a truck factory and a new factory to build the company’s most advanced battery cells.

The factory build shows that Tesla is serious about the tractor trailer, which it unveiled in 2017 but has so far built in limited numbers. In December, Tesla delivered several trucks to its first customer, PepsiCo.

Manufacturers such as Daimler Trucks, Volvo and Traton, a unit of Volkswagen, have said they intend to produce vehicles that produce zero tailpipe emissions, but diesel trucks still dominate the industry.

If the Tesla Truck is successful, it could put the same pressure on truck makers that automakers have suffered from Tesla’s electric cars and sports utility vehicles. The success of Tesla cars shook the industry, prompting General Motors, Ford Motor, Volkswagen and other automakers to respond with their own electric vehicles.

But it’s unclear how many truck buyers will switch to electric vehicles, and how quickly. Fleet owners pay close attention to the cost of ownership of the vehicles they purchase, carefully accounting for fuel prices, maintenance and driver downtime. A Tesla tractor-trailer can be more expensive to buy than a conventional heavy-duty truck, and is only attractive if customers think they can make up the difference by reducing fuel and maintenance costs.

Tesla advertises that its truck will have a range of 500 miles, making it suitable for relatively short trips. There is no full charging network for trucks. As long as the network is available, the tractor trailer will likely appeal primarily to customers who drive their trucks from depots where they can charge overnight.

Daimler, owner of Freightliner Trucks, is using hydrogen fuel cells as the best way to eliminate tailpipe emissions from long-haul trucks. Volvo, the world’s second largest truck manufacturer after Daimler, follows a similar strategy. But none have started mass production of hydrogen trucks, and hydrogen remains much more expensive than diesel.

News of Tesla’s decision to build a truck factory came Monday when Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo made the announcement in a speech.


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