Tesla Semi skepticism lingers months after Musk’s first delivery

Elon Musk has long relished trolling those that’ve doubted him and Tesla.

In 2018, he vowed to send “short shorts” to hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who’d been betting against Tesla’s stock. A couple years later, the corporate actually listed satin trunks as a gag gift on the market on its website.

Musk heard “various types of ‘you’re a fraud,’” he told the group at Tesla’s Model Y unveiling in 2019. His defiant retort: “You’ll be able to drive that fraud!”

The Tesla chief executive officer’s latest reveling had to do with the Semi, the heavy-duty truck that took five years to go from prototype to production. “Some people have said this was unimaginable,” Musk said during a Semi manufacturing event in Nevada last month. “But, uh, you’ll be able to drive it.”

The reasons for this proverbial victory lap were clear. Weeks earlier, Tesla handed off its first Semis to PepsiCo, which took delivery of 15 of the large rigs for its massive Frito-Lay facility in Modesto, California. The aim of the late January event in Nevada was to announce a $3.6 billion investment to expand using Tesla’s existing factory near Reno to construct more battery cells, in addition to Semi trucks.

While those were causes for celebration — something Musk can afford to do again, the best way Tesla shares have soared this yr — there’s still loads of uncertainty as to simply how meaningful the Semi will probably be to Tesla’s business. I had loads of questions for the corporate once I drove out to Modesto to see the trucks in person last month. While I used to be capable of climb into the Semi’s spacious cab and its centered driver’s seat, test drives were off limits.

Tesla staffers on site didn’t comment. PepsiCo representatives confirmed they’d taken delivery of all 15 trucks ordered as a part of a $30.8 million project I wrote about in November — the one for which California’s Air Resources Board picked up half the check — but had little else to share concerning the product.

It stays unclear how much the Semi costs, or whether some other customers who ordered trucks from Tesla a half decade ago have managed to get their hands on them. Tesla didn’t mention the model in its quarterly production and deliveries release last month, then referred to the Semi being in pilot production in its earnings deck. While Musk offered an update in the course of the earnings call on when he expects Tesla to be making Cybertrucks in volume — not until next yr — he didn’t have anything to say concerning the Semi.

Sightings of Semis on the side of the road in Sacramento and getting towed from a Nevada highway have lit up the message boards and social media networks where pro- and anti-Tesla flame wars have been fought for years.

Even before those incidents, there have been still vestiges of doubt concerning the Semi that Musk had yet to conquer. Analysts at RBC Capital Markets who’ve the equivalent of a buy rating on Tesla stock cautioned in December that the CEO could also be getting ahead of himself in aiming to make 50,000 trucks in 2024. RBC was modeling for more like 4,000.

This much is for certain: there’s an urgent need for Tesla and other manufacturers to impress big trucks. Town of Modesto has long struggled with poor air quality and high asthma rates. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay facility spans 500,000 square feet, and the food giant’s ambition is for it to be a showcase in sustainable manufacturing, warehousing and distribution.

We must always hear more about how Tesla plans to assist corporations like PepsiCo and cities beyond Modesto decarbonize on March 1. Musk has said the master plan he’ll deliver will chart “the trail to a totally sustainable energy future for Earth.”

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