Tesla’s foray into haulage is an attempt to cut into the heavy-goods transport market – but does its smart car software translate well in long-distance trucking?

Last month, Elon Musk, Tesla founder and CEO, unveiled the Tesla Semi, the Class 8 semi-trailer truck and Tesla’s first foray into commercial vehicles. It boasts an impressive array of stats – including 0-60 in 5 seconds even with a trailer attached, going up to 20 seconds with a gross weight of 36 tons.

The Tesla Semi is prepared to compete with traditionally-powered trucks: its range is impressive (a single charge lasting either 300 or 500 miles, depending on the model and, according to Musk, at a “worst case scenario”, suggesting lighter loads might exceed that) and a steady 65mph speed on a 5% gradient (compared to a normal diesel truck’s 45mph).

Its four drivetrain motors, “lifetime” brakes, and 30-minute charging time are all bound to appeal – but what about the Tesla software propelling the driving experience?

Driving Front and Center

In 2017, Musk said that in “about two years” he would expect to see self-driving technology enabling drivers to sleep throughout their journey, but he has confirmed in a 2017 interview that the Semi would not be driverless. Instead, it flaunts a range of technology which places safety definitively in the forefront.

Rather than the traditional driver and passenger seats, the Tesla Semi will feature a single driver’s seat in the center of the cab. There is a foldaway passenger seat slightly behind, but the single seat means more room to move around for truck-drivers that typically travel solo, and with a centered seat, the driver also has greater visibility for the road.

The dashboard itself is streamlined, and with no gears or lever to battle with, the driver has only the steering wheel and two touchscreens protruding either side. The touchscreens are the same as those gracing Tesla’s Model 3 and have full control over the vehicle, including lights, wipers, air conditioning, and music streaming.

Enhanced Autopilot

The Semi will come with Enhanced Autopilot as standard, meaning the driver remains in control with all the benefits of Tesla technology to ensure optimum safety.

Cameras (mounted beneath the exterior mirrors) and more radar devices than found in the current Tesla models keep an eye on the road: they will take charge of distance, monitoring blind spots, and checking for potential hazards such as emerging cars and pedestrians. If necessary, there is automated emergency braking. And with each of the rear four drive-wheel motors and brakes controlled independently by the system, the risk of jackknifing is vastly reduced.

But the Autopilot isn’t just monitoring the road for dangers. Lane Assist keeps the truck where it should be, and there is also the option to enable Convoy mode where a group of Semis can travel together with one driven truck leading and the rest relying on computers and sensors to keep them just feet apart. Collating the convoy’s safety information and relying on its autonomous driving mode is a great alternative when autonomously-driving vehicles are considered ten times safer than those driven by a human.

Keeping In Touch

The touchscreens aren’t solely focused the road. They will also display journey details, including navigation, and trip data logging, in addition to being linked to the haulage company’s network. What if delivery details are updated en-route? No problem: the new information will appear on the screen to alert the driver.

The new Semi looks impressive, and its bold claims are attracting its share of attention. But with physical strength and contemporary technology taking center stage, the Semi seems certain to make its mark in 2019.