Tesla reveals new Semi truck... and surprise Roadster

17 November 2017 | by Michael Gooderham

Tesla managed to both meet expectations and surprise the world during last night’s live presentation, as it revealed the long-teased ‘Semi’ full-electric lorry, followed by the unexpected reveal of an all-new Roadster for 2020.

The worthier of the two vehicles is the Semi. Whilst Tesla have been narrowly beaten to the electric lorry punch by Cummins, they aren’t to be outdone; the Silicon Valley company claims a range of 500 miles when towing the full permitted load of 80,000lbs (36,287kg).

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This is in part achieved by the smoothed-down body, whose surfaces are almost completely featureless. However, the cleanly swept-back profile, tapered nose, low-down wheel arches and covered rear wheels all help it achieve an overall drag coefficient of 0.36Cd – marginally slipperier than the Bugatti Chiron.

While the looks are difficult to get excited about, the lack of a giant diesel engine to accommodate does lend the Tesla a unique shape at the front, somewhere between the slab-fronted European offerings and the long, proud nose of traditional American 18-wheelers.

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What’s more, if the Semi driver – yes, the driver is still required – feels a drag race coming on, they can dominate their fellow truckers with a 0-60mph sprint time of 20 seconds fully loaded, claims Tesla… or they could unhook the trailer to hit the same speed from rest in just 5.0 seconds. YouTube will be thrilled.

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This remarkable claimed pace comes from four electric motors independently driving the four faired-in wheels at the back of the cab unit. Their instant torque-vectoring ability is also said to make it impossible to jackknife a Semi.

More important than speed, however, is the interior. The lone driver is sat centrally for optimum visibility, their cockpit flanked on either side by large touchscreens. One screen shows vehicle information while the other shows navigation and entertainment. Both incorporate the rear-view images from the cameras mounted on the bodysides.

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Aside from a glossy, leaf-shaped cupholder-cum-cubby unit on the driver’s right, the cabin is otherwise basic and sparse with no real styling to speak of.

The Semi’s powertrain is guaranteed by Tesla to last a million miles, while the company’s new ‘Megachargers’ will be able to charge the battery from 0-80% in a mere 30 minutes. Plus, a mix of low centre-of-gravity, super-tough ‘Armor Glass’ and the Enhanced Autopilot driver assist system aim to make this the world’s safest truck.

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Finally, the Semi should cost around half as much to run as a comparable diesel lorry, the company say.

The Semi will, allegedly, enter production in 2019.

But that's not all...

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2020 Tesla Roadster

Stealing some of the Semi’s thunder was an all-new Roadster. While the original 2007 Tesla Roadster was essentially a re-jigged, electrified Lotus Elise, this one due in 2020 sits on a bespoke skateboard platform utilising a 200kW/h battery pack – twice the capacity of the strongest Model S or X – and three electric motors with a single unit up front and two providing torque-vectoring at the rear.

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This, again, brings about some slightly bonkers acceleration figures. The claimed 0-60mph time is an unbeatable 1.9 seconds, while 100mph can be reached in 4.2 seconds. The top speed is said to be 250mph, a full 95mph beyond a Model S P100D, while the maximum range is a claimed 620 miles.

Design-wise, it’s harder for the Roadster to look revolutionary than for the Semi. Again, the lack of engine allows a smaller, lower nose and short overhang – akin to a mid-engine sports car – while there is just enough space in the rear to make the new Roadster a 2+2.

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Despite the name, it looks very much like it was designed as a coupé, then had a section of roof cut out of it to create a ‘Targa top’ (think of a 911 Targa or a Toyota Supra Aerotop, for instance). The roof itself has a very similar profile to existing Teslas, just adapted to fit a shorter, lower sports car body.

The DRG is made slightly more aggressive by narrower and more intricate headlight units, with a shallow air channel reaching down from their outer edge also adding a little more surfacing detail to the front fascia.

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The smooth, curvy wheelarches – accompanied by aero ridges at the front on the bonnet – add much more flare than is found on the company’s other models, while a deep light catcher and crisp character lines add notably more sculpture between the wheels than any previous model.

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That said, from some angles it would still be difficult to identify as a Tesla; the rear fascia has more in common with a Porsche Cayman or 918, while the angular DLO and subtle double-bubble roof sculpting both echo the current Corvette. The rear quarterlight windows tuck in to create air intakes, like on a Ferrari 458 and other supercars.

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The interior is unsurprisingly minimalist but tries much harder than the Model 3, with a steering wheel that belongs on a concept car and a skinny ‘floating’ centre console bringing the lower-mounted screen closer to occupants’ fingers – the latter in similar vein to an original ‘90s Honda NSX (which also, optionally, had a ‘Targa’ roof).

But then, you’d hope they had made more of an effort, given the price tag of $250,000…

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No exhaust pipes means room for gigantic underbody aero

The one visually unique thing about the Tesla Roadster is its proportions, given to it by the efficiently packaged electric powertrain that allows both ends to be compact and low down. Will it change the supercar forever, or amount to little more than a clever left-field alternative to the most desirable names in the business? Time will tell...

Scroll through the galleries to decide which best floats your smooth electric boat.