Tesla unveils semi truck, super car

Tesla founder Elon Musk unveiled his company's long-anticipated electric semi-truck overnight, in front of a crowd of 2000 (watch the event at here or a nine-minute supercut at The Verge).

The Tesla Semi is due for release at the end of 2019, though bear in mind Musk is not exactly known for his punctuality). No price was given at last night's event, but Telsa says the Semi will deliver $200,000 in fuel and other savings over a two-year period, which it claims will give it the industry's lowest cost of ownership.It will come in two models, one with a 300-mile (383km) range, one with 500-mile (805km) range — or more if a group of  Semi's maximise their already low drag coefficient by driving (or self-driving) in a convoy.

The Semi's maximum towing capacity is 80,000 pounds (36,000kg or just over 36 tonnes), and it's semi-autonomous.

And even though the price has yet to be disclosed, Canadian grocery chain Loblaw ordered 25, paying a $US5000 deposit for each. Walmart says it will run a trial.

Tesla shares jumped nearly a percent, helping to peg back recent losses.

The move toward self-driving trucks has gained huge momentum in the US. Rival consortiums include Google and Uber. The thinking is driverless trucks could arrive before driverless taxis or consumer vehicles because there is no emotional factor with trucking companies; they'll switch as soon as it makes sense. All of the rival groups see trucks operating in full autonomous mode on highways between cities, with human drivers taking over -- likely by remote control screens -- for trickier finishing through city streets. The New York Times has a great backgrounder here. On the face of things, it does seem like grim long-term prospects for companies like the NZX-listed Eroad or Selwyn Pellett's Cortex that add telematics smarts to existing trucks.

It's also notable that the Tesla Semi will put Tesla in a degree of competition with its Kiwi co-founder Ian Wright, whose startup Wrightspeed is developing electric drive trains for heavy duty vehicles (scroll down for video).

Tesla says its electric truck, the Semi (pictured above and below) will be able to tow a 36,000kg trailer, and have a range of around 800km per charge. It also bills it as the world's most comfortable truck — though semi-autonomous features mean there might not always be a human in the cabin to enjoy it in years ahead. Full Semi tech specs here.

Musk also surprised by previewing a new super car, the Tesla Roadster, which will sell for a minimum of $US200,000, have a top speed of "more than 240 miles per hour" (403km/h) and a range of up to 602 miles (969km).

Tesla bills it as the world's fastest production cars. It will also be no slouch on the acceleration front, going from 0 to 100km in 1.9 seconds (see full tech specs here).

The Roader (pictured below) will be released in 2020.

It costs $US50,000 to reserve a place as one of the first 1000 in the queue for a "founders' series" Roadster (which gets added to your tab for a total of $US250,000).

Production delays
The Semi and the Roader add to Tesla's to-do list at time when the electric vehicle maker is already struggling to ramp up production.

When its affordable ($US35,000) Model 3 started in July at Tesla’s plant in California Musk said he hoped to increase output to 20,000 vehicles a month by December.

But Tesla had assembled just 260 by the end of September. Hundreds of staff got their marching orders after what seemed to be a very front-round of performance reviews (Tesla has around 33,000 staff total).

In a letter to shareholders two weeks ago, Musk said he hoped to lift production to 5000 a week early next year.

Still, New Zealanders who order a Model 3 should bear in mind that deliveries of the right-hand drive version won't even begin until 2019 (assuming Tesla sticks to its schedule).

Related video (June, 2017): Susan Wood talks to Wrightspeed founder and Tesla co-founder Ian Wright.

Local service centre close
On the home front, Tesla says its first New Zealand service centre, will now be open before the end of the year (the original target was mid-year). It'll be located off Auckland's Karangahape Road, on the site of the old Telecom HQ and feature Tesla's solar tiles and home batteries as well as vehicles. Meantime, Tesla's car-only pop-up store has moved from Ponsonby to a new temporary location at 120 Great North Road (if you're familiar with that auto-strip, it's just down from Giltrap Porsche, on the site formerly occupied by Lamborghini. For those in the cheap seats, it's beside the McDonalds).

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