Elon Musk presented a new electric pickup, staging another bright show. What does this mean for the industry and will it help the planet's ecology? We analyze the prospects for "heavy" electric transport.
Premiere of the "machine of the future"
Tesla Cybertruck presentation started on November 22, at six o'clock in the morning Moscow time. The electric pickup, as expected, resembled the car from the legendary Blade Runner movie. Actually, as a sign of respect for this film, which takes place in November 2019, the presentation was postponed for two months.
Despite the fact that Tesla founder Elon Musk is usually active on social networks, he managed to restrain himself until the event itself: practically no information about Cybertruck was leaked to the Network. And they had to restrain themselves for quite a long time: for the first time information about the creation of an electric pickup was announced back in 2017.
The long-awaited car met the first, visual expectations. The appearance of the Cybertruck on the stage took place under a canopy of laser beams and was accompanied by flashes of fire. Musk himself masterfully managed the audience, joked and was generally on fire - but he took his brainchild with the utmost seriousness.
The car turned out to be well prepared for any apocalypse and post-apocalypse (well, except for the sudden appearance of a black hole in the solar system). The body of the pickup truck is made of cold rolled stainless steel. It can withstand a blow from a sledgehammer (which was demonstrated right on stage) and a shot from a nine-millimeter pistol (this was shown only on a plasma screen).
The glass of the car is also armored: one of Musk's assistants demonstrated their strength by throwing a metal ball onto the glass from a great height. True, when testing the windows in the car doors, they nevertheless cracked, but this seemed to bother no one very much.
What is he
Briefly about the characteristics: Tesla Cybertruck will be available in three versions - with one, two and three engines, respectively. The maximum power reserve on a single charge is from 400 to 800 kilometers, depending on the version. The carrying capacity of the machine is one and a half tons, in addition, the Cybertruck is capable of pulling a six-ton trailer.
Of course, the design of the car caused a storm of comments. The retro-futuristic look, inspired, in addition to Blade Runner, by another of the Bond films - The Spy Who Loved Me, - provoked a wave of jokes about the resemblance to brick and childish drawing, invisibility to radars and the lack of windshield wipers. Although, according to Musk's hints on Twitter, it was already possible to understand that the car would turn out to be as brutal as possible and would cause rejection among many.
In the world of automotive manufacturing in general, Volvo, Volkswagen and Jaguar are far more famous names than Tesla. The growing wave of popularity of electric vehicles has affected large corporations, which, by virtue of their capabilities, are able to simply squeeze Musk's company off the stage. It's not even about production capacity. “The old manufacturers have a lot of experience in making cars, they know how to make the interior cool, soft, comfortable, with neat stitching. But Tesla doesn’t know, and everyone complains about it that it’s not like a German car inside,”says Igor Antarov, managing partner of the Moscow Tesla Club.
Musk's side is the ability to make a spectacular show from any occasion: no one remembers the presentation of the Jaguar i-Pace and when it was there, right? And Elon is not afraid to take risks: while other automakers are cautious and in no hurry to "transfer eggs to another basket", Tesla has already focused only on electric cars.
Now the businessman is the first to enter a new segment of the electric car market, because so far no one knows how successful electric trucks will be and what they are generally capable of.Here Musk will check. The dynamics of the firm's financial performance adds confidence to the experimenter. If Tesla completed the first quarter of 2019 with a loss of $ 702 million, then the second - only 408 million, and in the third, the company has already gone into profit, earning a little less than 150 million. How do you like that, investors?
What's wrong with "heavy" electric vehicles
Cybertruck is Tesla's second attempt to enter the heavy electric vehicle market. The first one exactly two years ago, in November 2017, was the Tesla Semi truck. The six-wheeled truck tractor, according to the developers, is capable of moving 36 tons of cargo, traveling up to 800 kilometers on a single charge. The time for a full charge of the Semi battery is 40 minutes, and for an 80% charge, it takes half an hour.
True, the car did not go into mass production two years later. And it is not known whether it will (although the start of release in 2020 has already been announced). Still, truck tractors are no longer about a cool image, but about endurance, reliability and carrying capacity. Among the "serious" trucks of large companies, Semi with its futuristic design looks more like a PR move. Tesla is clearly struggling to refute this. Thus, during the carrying capacity tests carried out in August this year, it was announced that the power reserve on a single charge had been increased to 965 kilometers. Much more important than the ability of the door to withstand a blow with a sledgehammer.
These 965 kilometers are the main argument that can force transport companies to purchase Tesla trucks, because the main potential competitors have not come close to this figure. For example, the Volvo FL Electric, presented in April 2018, can travel only 300 kilometers without recharging. Canadian Lion8, nicknamed by the creators of "Apple in the world of electric trucks" and presented with fanfare in March 2019, can travel up to 400 kilometers on a single charge.
Most electric trucks ask to be plugged in after 200 kilometers. It is for this reason that many large companies such as MAN, DAF and Mercedes-Benz do not mass-produce electric models, limiting themselves to experimental prototypes. Small firms make commercial cars for them. And "for them" is not just a figure of speech. There are a large number of companies in Europe whose main or secondary activity is converting gasoline and diesel trucks into electric vehicles. For example, GINAF, which manufactures heavy dump trucks, is simultaneously converting DAF machines to electricity. And BPW, which produces axles for truck trailers, turns Mercedes-Benz Vario cars into electric trucks.
Of course, the scope of such cars is limited. Usually they are used for delivery of goods within cities - the maximum of suburbs. Or to create utility vehicles that travel close, slow and always have the opportunity to recharge.
Deceptive environmental friendliness
It's no secret that the trend in electric transport is largely due to the fight against global warming. Constant efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions lead to the fact that in many countries car owners are provided with subsidies for the purchase of "green" cars or reduced taxes on car ownership. For example, in Portugal and Denmark, electric cars are completely exempt from registration fees.
But the benefits of electric vehicles, in the absence of harmful emissions, can be offset by the harm from batteries that have exhausted their resource. They do not know how to process them normally, but they will soon have to deal with this issue. Scientists at the University of Birmingham estimate that the batteries of all electric vehicles sold in 2017 will produce 250,000 tons of toxic waste by the end of their life. And sales of electric vehicles only grow from year to year …
For a while, the lack of efficient recycling technologies for lithium-ion batteries will not be a threat to us. Tesla Model 3 batteries, for example, have a warranty period of eight years.In addition, Tesla has repeatedly announced projects to provide batteries with a "second life" - for example, for home use, which could extend the battery life by another eight to ten years. But after this period, the problem will rise to its full extent.
Of course, you can argue that such a technology will definitely be created as long as you like and with a very smart face. However, in addition to environmental problems, which do not seem to be taken by large corporations, there is another important argument - lithium, or rather, its limited amount. Yes, lithium-ion batteries have been produced since 1991, but it is worth considering that a car battery requires about a hundred times more lithium than a laptop battery, and thousands of times more than a smartphone.
So far, due to an oversupply in the world market, prices for lithium-containing raw materials are kept at a relatively low level. In 2017, a kilogram of lithium carbonate cost more than $ 20, but now the price has dropped below ten dollars and, according to experts, will hold on at this level for several more years, while the pace of development of the electric vehicle market is not fast enough. But companies looking to the future must find a way to provide themselves with lithium from waste until it becomes scarce in the earth's crust.
What lies ahead for Musk and his pickup truck
Will Cybertruck be successful? Taking into account all the factors - market growth, a unique (so far) niche, the presence of a core of the company's fans - it is more likely yes than no. By the way, another important factor of future popularity, which we held at the end of the article, is the cost of the car. The basic version of the Cybertruck with one motor and rear axle drive will cost 40 thousand dollars. For comparison, the Ford F-150 Lariat, one of Cybertruck's competitors, was estimated at 42.5 thousand.
Of course, a completely comfortable pickup with a similar payload can be bought for less money - albeit with a less brutal design, without an autopilot and with a gasoline engine. This is by no means important to everyone. But this is not the point of Tesla at all: their cars are more high-tech gadgets than just vehicles - like the iPhone among other smartphones. You can snobby the owners of these cars as much as you want, punish the name and surname of Elon Musk and predict the imminent collapse of his company, but the possession of a Tesla automatically means that the owner is in an elite club.
And if you need real, not pretentious, arguments in favor of electric cars in general and Tesla in particular, then think about an engine that, unlike a gasoline one, practically does not wear out. Consider being able to charge from any 220V outlet. Think about the absence of the need to warm up the car when starting from a frost and about the quietness of the ride. After all, the era of gasoline is already coming to an end.