This Week in Logistics News (November 13-17, 2017)

In case you’re wondering, I did get selected as a juror this week. I’m now 4 for 4 — four times called for jury duty, 4 times selected. The trial (a driving under the influence case) only lasted a day and we found the defendant guilty.

When the jury duty letter arrives in the mail, many people have the same reaction I have: Ugh. But every time I serve, I’m reminded again that along with voting, serving as a juror is a great honor, responsibility, and experience.

Outside the courtroom, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

Did you stay up late last night waiting for Tesla to reveal its truck? The company made a big deal of it, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeting earlier in the day, “It can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte.”

I didn’t stay up — I opted to watch the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors instead — but I watched the recording this morning.

Here are some of the highlights from the presentation — that is, the claims and promises Mr. Musk makes:

  • 500 miles per charge at maximum weight (80,000 lb. load) and highway speed
  • 30 minutes to charge battery to get 400 miles of range
  • 0-60 mph in 20 seconds carrying full load (much faster than diesel truck). Can travel 65 mph up 5% grade with 80,000 lb load
  • Spacious cab with driver in the center, two 15-inch display screens, and enough room to stand upright and change clothes.
  • Shatter-resistant windshield
  • Enhanced auto-pilot and other autonomous and safety features
  • Drivetrain guaranteed to last 1 million miles
  • Sticker price was not announced, but Musk said total operating costs will be at least 20 percent less than for diesel trucks.
  • Production to begin in 2019

Okay, that’s a lot to digest and analyze. Since I’m not a trucking executive or an owner-operator, I’ll wait to hear from them before forming an opinion (please post a comment and share your thoughts).

But here’s some additional food for thought:

J.B. Hunt announced this morning that it has placed a reservation to purchase multiple Tesla Semi tractors. The company plans to deploy electric tractors to its Intermodal and Dedicated Contract Services divisions to support operations on the West Coast. “Reserving Tesla trucks marks an important step in our efforts to implement industry-changing technology,” said John Roberts, president and chief executive officer at J.B. Hunt. “We believe electric trucks will be most beneficial on local and dray routes [emphasis mine], and we look forward to utilizing this new, sustainable technology.” Do other trucking companies believe the same thing, that electric trucks like Tesla’s Semi are best suited for local and dray routes, not long-haul routes?

Tesla gets a lot of attention, but they’re not the only company working on electric-powered trucks. As summarized nicely in a recent Mashable article, you have companies like Nikola, Daimler, Volkswagen, Einride, Embark, Cummins, Waymo, Uber, and PACCAR all working in this area, with some also testing hydrogen fuel cells. Simply put, when it comes to potentially replacing the diesel truck, trucking companies and owner-operators will have choices and Tesla may or may not be the best option.

Tesla is going through some growing pains at the moment (it made just 260 Model 3s this quarter, falling far short of producing 5,000 per week), and while the company has many fans and supporters, it also has many critics and skeptics who question the company’s long-term viability, especially if the government ever eliminates subsidies for electric vehicles. Will Tesla’s current production problems and potential risks influence the buying decision of trucking companies and owner-operators?

To me, the most impressive part of the Tesla Semi was the cab interior. Spacious, simple, comfortable — the exact opposite of cab interiors today. To make a computer analogy, today’s cab interiors are like the old green screen user interfaces, whereas what Tesla (and others) are introducing are like the Apple OS. It might be a very small piece of the driver shortage puzzle, but this change could help attract more younger drivers to the industry.

Okay, I’m out of time and space for today. Have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “The Day I Die” by The National