Tesla to trucking industry: Step up your electric game


LAS VEGAS — The Advanced Clean Truck Expo is a come-all event. Until this year, Tesla has passed on attending.
The ACT Expo has outgrown the art deco charm of Long Beach and the “Disney-fied” atmosphere of Anaheim, California. This year, it moved to convention mecca with exhibitors filling the North Hall of the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center. It returns to Anaheim in 2025, occupying both halls of the convention center in 2025.
Dozens of battery electric, fuel-cell electric and alternative fuel vehicles attracted long lines for short rides. For the first time, the pacesetter in electric vehicle technology — Tesla — was among them.
Perhaps because Tesla has some early points on the board with its Semi electric truck, Elon Musk dispatched his top Semi executive with a message for legacy truck makers: “Get with it.”
Semi’s top executive comes to town
Dan Priestley is not exactly a household name. But given that he works for a company whose CEO is the focal — and only — regular point of communications, that’s not a surprise. Public relations is not an afterthought at Tesla. It doesn’t really exist.
So, having Priestley participate in a fireside chat at the ACT Expo highlighted four days that also featured a first-ever gathering of five legacy trucking leaders on the same stage with a moderator asking tough questions that allowed little self-promotion to seep through.
But back to Priestley. His best line about the Semi, now in early production with fewer than 100 trucks in customer use, smacked of the kind of self-deprecating humor that wins over an audience.
“Tesla has a specialty. And that is turning the impossible into merely late,” Priestley said. The reference, of course, was to the September 2017 reveal of the Semi being followed by multiple delays that pushed its arrival five years beyond its original 2019 planned production date.
Semi is the only purpose-built electric truck
Only Tesla is manufacturing a purpose-built electric truck. As such, it is lighter and capable of handling a much higher electric charge than entries from Daimler Truck, Volvo Group North America, Paccar, Navistar and a host of startups. All started by replacing a diesel-power internal-combustion engine with an electric powertrain, carrying over designs never intended for powering by batteries.
Today’s first- and second-generation Class 8 zero tailpipe-emissions electric trucks top out at a single-charge driving range of 200 to 300 miles, often less. They work for regional and short-haul routes but are impractical for over-the-road driving because they need hours to recharge.
The Tesla Semi is different. Its first customer, PepsiCo, ran more than 1,000 miles with one of its three Tesla Semis in a 24-hour period during the North American Council for Freight Efficiency Run on Less Electric Depot demonstration last year.
The first Semi production model probably weighs in at 26,000 to 27,000 pounds. Tesla aspires to empty-vehicle weights for the standard 300-mile-range model of 20,000 pounds and 23,000 pounds for the 500-mile-range model. Those depend on energy density improvements in its homemade-battery cells. Today’s Nikola Tre BEV, for example, weighs about 29,000 pounds.
Every pound of the 82,000-pound gross tractor-trailer BEV weight used for batteries is 1 less pound for freight.
Tesla’s message to the truck industry
Priestley told the industry what it knows but probably didn’t want to hear.
“I encourage everybody to challenge the historic model. If you’re an OEM, develop a fully purposed EV,” he said.
Dan Priestley, head of Tesla Semi, talked to a full house at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo and participated in a fireside chat. It was Tesla’s first appearance at the event. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)
Though it flies in the face of total cost-of-ownership calculations, fleets must abandon the deliberate approach of testing a single electric truck or two for a year followed by evaluating a few more trucks for another year.
“You’re going to be half a decade behind,” he said. “Look at how you can get to electric [trucks] at scale quickly. Going in with both feet is really the key to unlocking [the value].”
Scaling the Semi in 2026
Tesla takes some hits for its slow ramp-up, but that will change in 2026 if it follows through on plans to make 50,000 Semis a year at a plant under construction in Nevada. Pepsi is getting 50 more Semi trucks in coming months. A few more are trickling out as demos to other customers. Freight miles traveled to date exceed 3.5 million.
Priestley said that lessons from Tesla light-duty vehicle production carried over to the Semi.
“Sometimes it’s literal [computer] code. We can work on the same code based on the software side,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the same part.”
Tesla’s SuperCharger network using the North American Charging Standard has been adopted by almost all automakers using an adapter. Priestley urged truckmakers to abandon the Combined Charging Standard, known as CCS1.
“Please stop putting CCS1 into the ground. Please stop,” he said. “Everything has to plug into everything. That’s the only way this works.”
Trucking leaders push for infrastructure help
The slowdown in electric-truck adoption has several reasons: Higher upfront costs is one. A soft freight market and fewer fleet profits to invest is another. But the biggest obstacle is availability of electric charging.
And that is where leaders from Daimler Truck North America, Volvo Truck North America, Peterbilt, Navistar Inc. and Mack Trucks focused much of their comments during a rare gathering of the group on a single stage.
Daimler Truck North America CEO John O’Leary, Navistar CEO Mathias Carlbaum, Peterbilt General Manager Jason Skoog, Volvo Truck North America President Peter Voorhoeve and Mack Trucks North American President Jonathan Randall (not pictured) appeared on the same stage at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)
Daimler, Volvo and Navistar leaders held a smaller such gathering in January to launch a new industry group called Powering America’s Commercial Transportation. Its goal is educating and lobbying for more support for truck charging –— more money and revamped utility rules and regulations. So far, it has about two dozen members.
‘A bigger mission’
“This is a bigger mission,” said Jonathan Randall, Mack North America president. “We’ve got to put aside some of the rivalries.”
Randall punctuated the slowdown when he said that Mack’s truck-as-a-service offering called ElectriFi launched last year has yet to sign a customer for its medium-duty Class 6-7 MD Electric and Class 8 LR Electric refuse hauler. Both trucks are selling in modest numbers.
“We were pretty excited,” Randall said of introducing the LR Electric in 2019. “The customers weren’t. Four years in, and it hasn’t changed.”
Even Jason Skoog, Peterbilt general manager whose parent Paccar Inc. offers a range of electric models but is not actively pursuing infrastructure as some rivals are, beat the drum for infrastructure.
Skoog and John O’Leary, CEO of DTNA, both said that diesel models will dominate trucking for years, if not decades.
“The diesel business is paying for all this,” O’Leary said, mentioning that one large customer has put 575 of 600 electric truck orders on hold. He did not name the customer. DTNA signed a letter of intent for up to 800 eCascadias from food distributor Sysco Corp. in 2022.
Nils Jaeger, president of Volvo Autonomous Solutions, presented the truck maker’s first fully autonomous truck at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Las Vegas. Based on the new Class 8 VNL flagship, it will begin operating with safety drivers as it hauls freight using the Aurora Driver from Aurora Innovation.
A Vegas Pick’em
The 2024 ACT Expo was newsier than many of its predecessors. Check out this absolutely incomplete list of happenings:
The Hyundai Xcient fuel-cell electric truck will be the first to offer Level 4 high autonomy, testing the SuperDrive system from Plus. After focusing on Level 2 partial autonomy, Plus is beginning to assert itself in Level 4, recently cutting a deal with Navistar, which broke off a 2½-year partnership with TuSimple in December 2022. In both cases, the trucks will operate with safety drivers on board. Neither Plus nor Hyundai would discuss timing.
Facing a vote on a reverse split of its shares next month that could be followed by authorizing new shares for raising capital, Nikola reported an order of 100 fuel-cell electric trucks from Ai Logistics for delivery in 2025. It is the kind of national fleet order that financially struggling Nikola is pursuing and needs to generate revenue. The startup has delivered 75 FCEVs to date.
Separately, CEO Steve Girsky recently purchased 1 million shares of the company he helped bring public in 2020, paying about 54 cents a share.
Hino Motors and Norway’s Hexagon Purus revealed the Tern, a new zero-emission truck brand built on Hino’s XL Series 4X2 chassis. The RC8 battery-electric Class 8 tractor integrates Hexagon Purus’ zero-emission technology with a Dana Inc. Zero-8 electronic axle and Panasonic Energy battery cells, initially from Japan with U.S. production beginning in 2026.
Following a May 2023 memorandum of understanding, Daimler Truck-owned Mitsubishi Fuso and Toyota-owned Hino are progressing on a plan to merge Fuso and Hino into a single Japanese commercial-vehicle manufacturer. It was expected to be completed this year. But regulatory hurdles and emission certification issues at Hino have pushed out a definitive agreement.
Hino Motors and Hexagon Purus revealed the Teem RC8, a Class 8 electric-truck chassis based on Hino’s XL Series. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)
Even as sales of electric trucks slow, Daimler Truck North America is thinking about what to do with the batteries in existing electric trucks when they are no longer useful for powering transportation.
As part of reducing the company’s overall carbon footprint, Daimler will repair, remanufacture, repurpose or recycle lithium-ion-battery materials used in its electric trucks, step vans and school buses.
Proterra has begun life after bankruptcy as part of the Volvo Group. Customers privately say that they are paying more than they used to for batteries from the startup. Proterra’s battery assets were sold through a bankruptcy auction for $210 million in November.
Daimler Truck North America (DTNA), Nikola and other customers all have re-upped with Proterra, whose issues resulted from uncontrolled spending, taking on too much debt, and expanding too quickly rather than any technological issues. DTNA said it is using Proterra batteries for new versions of its electric school buses and Freightliner Custom Chassis electric step vans. It did not mention the new owner of its battery supplier.
Truck Tech episode No. 67: Highlights from the ACT Expo exhibit floor. And a conversation with Daimler Truck North America CEO John O’Leary
John O’Leary, the CEO of Daimler Truck North America, was the first guest on the Truck Tech podcast. He returns to discuss the state of electric trucks and DTNA’s recent labor settlement with the United Auto Workers.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading and watching. Subscribe to Truck Tech here to get email delivery on Fridays. Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome. Write to [email protected].



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