Electric Vehicles

The Semitruck Market Is Heating Up Thanks to the New Tesla

One of my favorite quotes comes from internationally renowned author and management consultant Oren Harari: “The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles.”

Harari’s quote has some parallels with the evolution of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars to electric vehicles.

EVs don’t just use battery power instead of gas. The way their engines operate is completely different.

And the manufacturers creating these next-generation vehicles are revolutionizing the semitruck market.

Dirty, Money-Sucking Engines

ICE vehicles physically ignite fuel to create repeated explosions. The explosions force pistons to turn a crankshaft. Power is then routed through a mechanical transmission that moves the vehicle.

The downsides to these engines are noise, pollution and routine maintenance. The longer the vehicle is owned, the more expensive the upkeep is.

When it comes to big semitrucks, things get even worse. Most of them burn diesel fuel, which generates even more pollutants than gas-powered ones do.

A diesel truck’s big advantage is torque. Diesel engines can sport as much as 500 horsepower and produce up to 1,650 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of torque.

Most long-haul diesel semitrucks also have big fuel tanks that can hold 250 gallons of diesel fuel. This gives them a range of 500 to 1,000 miles.

They are big contributors to urban smog. In 2017, medium- and heavy-duty trucks accounted for 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The transportation sector alone contributed 29% of all U.S. emissions in 2017. Most of these emissions are carbon dioxide.

It’s Electric… But Still Not Ideal

On the other end of the semitruck spectrum are fully electric trucks. Tesla‘s (Nasdaq: TSLA) Semi is the most developed example.

Going back to Harari’s quote, the fully electric vehicle did not come from the continuous improvement of ICEs. EVs are something else entirely. There are no controlled explosions in an electric truck.

It’s a nice, quiet environment. Just electrons moving around a simple circuit. A battery and a motor connected together.

Tesla’s Semi boasts 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 ft-lbs of torque. Electric energy costs for the Tesla Semi are half those of diesel.

Tesla claims a two-year payback period and $200,000 in fuel savings. No pollution, no smog and no worry about oil availability or price.

But there are some limitations. Battery size and weight are two big ones.

It might take an hour or more to recharge the Semi’s massive battery. Even with a full charge, range is limited to 300 to 500 miles depending on terrain and load.

Current charging time limitations means truck drivers would have to stop more frequently. That would reduce productivity and lengthen delivery times.

But what if there was a way to improve upon both ICEs and EVs?

A New Breed of Semitruck

Tesla has a new competitor: Nikola Corp. It’s manufacturing both hydrogen-electric and all-electric semitrucks.

Its primary power unit is a hydrogen fuel cell. Like the Tesla Semi, the Nikola Two has 1,000 horsepower and generates 2,000 ft-lbs of torque.

But that’s where the similarities end. It can refuel in 10 to 15 minutes. And its range is a shocking 500 to 750 miles.

Nikola also has an all-electric pickup truck in the works. This monster tops out at 906 horsepower and up to 980 ft-lbs of torque.

Investors, take note: If you missed all the gains on Tesla, you’ll have another opportunity.

Nikola Corp. is planning an initial public offering for this year.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Good investing,

Dave