Tesla aims for network of truck charging

Source:Reuters-Global Times Published: 2018/2/8 18:43:15

Some US firms join effort; others await cost, payload data

A Tesla charging station in Beijing Photo: VCG

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc, has said little about how he plans to turn his prototype electric truck into reality.

Tesla is collaborating with Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo and United Parcel Service Inc to build on-site charging terminals at their facilities as part of the automaker's efforts to roll out the vehicle next year.

Details of the partnerships, which have not been disclosed previously, are still being hammered out, but they include design and engineering from Tesla, the companies said.

They declined to disclose what portion of the building costs, if any, Tesla would pay, or whether Tesla would be compensated for its work.

The companies are among nine major corporations that have placed pre-orders for Tesla's truck, dubbed the Semi.

With questions about whether Tesla can make good on its aggressive timetable, news of the collaboration is a sign that corporate customers are taking the effort seriously and Tesla is working to solve one of the biggest impediments: keeping the vehicles powered.

Companies said the first step is to install charging equipment on their own premises.

The Semis would be limited to routes that would get them back to home base before the batteries are spent.

PepsiCo, which has reserved 100 Tesla trucks, said it may eventually explore sharing facilities and costs with other companies. The food conglomerate has held multiple meetings with Tesla to discuss the recharging effort, said PepsiCo executive Mike O'Connell.

"We have a lot of in-house capability around energy and engineering ... and certainly Tesla brings their expertise to the table on energy and charging," said O'Connell, senior director of supply chain for Frito-Lay North America, PepsiCo's snack-food unit.

Separately, Tesla is moving ahead with plans for its own stations to sell electricity to truckers who pull up for a charge, according to customers and transportation industry executives who have discussed the matter with the Silicon Valley automaker.

Tesla already operates more than 1,100 "supercharger" stations globally for drivers of its passenger cars. Musk has spoken publicly of doing something similar for its heavy-duty trucks by installing a network of solar-powered "megachargers" that could charge a Semi battery in 30 minutes.

But just how quickly Tesla could build a robust network of electric filling stations for commercial truckers is not clear. The company is already stretched thin and burning cash.

Tesla has struggled to expand production of its new Model 3 sedan, which has been plagued by delays. Some analysts and trucking executives doubt that Tesla can deliver the Semi in 2019, much less the charging infrastructure to support it.

A Tesla spokesperson confirmed that the California-based company is working closely with large customers to build Semi charging stations. She declined to comment further on the arrangements or Tesla's plans for its own truck-charging terminals.

Anheuser-Busch may install its own charging equipment for its 40 Tesla Semis at large breweries and other key locations, according to James Sembrot, senior director of supply chain for the beer maker.

"What was important to us was to make a big investment in this cutting-edge technology and secure our place in line," Sembrot said.

UPS also expects to work closely with Tesla on building on-site charging stations, according to Scott Phillippi, global engineering director for the parcel delivery company, which pre-ordered 125 Semis in December.

Grocery chain Loblaw Companies will likely use solar power at charging stations for the 25 Semis that it has pre-ordered from Tesla, according to spokesperson Catherine Thomas. She said Loblaw was considering Tesla as well as "a few other companies" for technology and design.

None of the companies would disclose cost estimates for building their own charging infrastructure.

US transit agencies that operate electric buses provide some clues. A "fast charger" terminal serving six electric buses would cost $249,000, according to a 2016 report from the California Air Resources Board.

But analysts and automotive industry executives said the price tag for commercial truck facilities could easily reach into the millions of dollars, depending on factors such as the number of vehicles to be recharged, the energy source for the electricity and existing energy infrastructure in a given area.

In November 2017, Tesla unveiled its prototype Semi with the aim of upending the trucking industry.

At an event in California, Musk said the battery-powered cab could achieve up to 500 miles on a single charge, and be faster, cleaner and cheaper to operate than conventional diesels.

Base prices range from $150,000 to $200,000, according to Tesla's website.

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