The push to electrify the trucking industry has gained a famous supporter.
During a recent episode of Jay Leno’s Garage – a YouTube show hosted by the comedian and former late-night talk show host – Leno was given the opportunity to test drive Telsa’s Semi.
“I feel like Captain Kirk sitting in this thing,” Leno said when he first sat down behind the wheel of the all-electric Semi.
Joining Leno for a tour of the new Semi was Franz von Holzhausen, chief designer at Tesla, who said the high-tech, futuristic design of the cab was created with truckers in mind.
“This is their office. They spend an inordinate amount of time in the truck,” he said. “So we wanted to make a space that was really comfortable for them, because that’s where they’re working.”
Of course, truckers can be a finicky bunch, with many being apprehensive when it comes to adopting new technologies. Dan Priestley, Tesla’s senior designer of semitruck engineering, told Leno that overcoming that obstacle is easy once drivers experience the Semi.
“As long as we give them the tools to do their job, then they come on board real fast. So that means giving them adequate power. It means making it safe. A clean, nice environment – a good in-cab experience,” Priestley said. “By doing all those things, we get a lot of drivers – even the ones that were initially skeptical – they get on board really quickly.”
If the features won’t draw in truckers, Tesla hopes the cost savings will. The company claims its all-electric Semi will save owners about $200,000 annually.
Currently, the Tesla Semi is being offered only in a day-cab version, but Priestley said the company plans to make a sleeper-cab version of the vehicle when the charging network capacity expands. Priestley told Leno that to date, Tesla has manufactured between 60 and 70 Semis.
“We’re cranking around just at pilot volume,” he said. “We’re collecting data. We’re getting a lot of really great driver feedback. And then we’re going to take that time to do a bunch of improvements and bring that to a high volume, and really try to be a major player in the market.”
The groundwork for that increase in production volume is already being laid. In January, the Austin, Texas-based company announced an investment of over $3.6 billion toward an expansion of its 5.4 million-square-foot Nevada Gigafactory complex. Expansion plans include the construction of two new factories, with one of these dedicated to mass production of the Semi electric truck.
“This is probably the biggest revolution in trucking since trucks replaced trains, isn’t it?” Leno asked.
“We’re really firm believers that all terrestrial traffic will go electric, and Semi is going to be a big part of that,” Priestley told Leno. “We really see this as a huge opportunity to make this a revolutionary product in the trucking industry, and show the world that electric can be very capable and haul all the goods that we need to.”
Telsa hasn’t released the price of its Semi yet, but Priestley said it will be in line with other commercial trucks. When the company opened preorders in May 2022, the expected price tag was $150,000 for the 300-mile-range model, with the 500-mile-range model selling for $180,000.
When it came to the test drive, Leno was impressed with the performance and handling of the vehicle. He drove it without a trailer at first but later hooked it up to a flatbed hauling another Tesla Semi. That’s when he became really impressed.
“It doesn’t feel like I’m pulling anything,” Leno said. “It’s amazing.”
That reaction from Leno points to purposeful engineering on Tesla’s part. The company hopes that reimagining what a semi looks like – and more importantly, how it works – could attract a new generation of drivers to the industry.
Priestley noted that simplifying the task of driving, such as by “not having to manage and double-clutch when you’re downshifting asynchronous gears and things that come with that,” could go a long way in making the trucking industry more accessible.
“The average age of drivers in the United States is over 50,” he added. “We don’t have many young drivers, so we’re hoping that by reducing the barrier to entry … by making an easier-to-approach vehicle, it might attract some new drivers into the field.”
As for whether Leno holds a commercial driver’s license, that’s unclear. The video shows him driving on city streets as well as on the highway, so it would seem that he does. Producers for the show did not respond to Land Line’s request to confirm.
It does seem, however, like Leno has the chops to cut it behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer. For a previous episode of the show, he earned a Pit Driver’s License in order to drive a 240-ton haul truck used for mining operations.
While he might not take up trucking as a career, Leno was impressed with his test drive. But he did have one suggestion for the company.
“We gotta get a Winnebago version of this,” he joked. “Elon, get on it!” LL