Surprise! Elon Musk unveils Tesla Semi truck – plus a remade Roadster that’s beyond ludicrous

Elon Musk, Semi and Roadster
Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Semi truck and an updated Roadster. (Tesla via YouTube)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk rode in with revelations about his company’s all-electric Semi truck, but walked off with an even bigger surprise: a new version of the Tesla Roadster that breaks records for speed and range.

Tonight’s unveiling at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, Calif., set a new standard for hype, with hundreds of fans cheering in the stands. But if Musk follows through on the promised specs, the Semi and the Roadster should set new standards for electric vehicles. And for vehicles, period.

“The point of doing this is just to give a hard-core smackdown to gasoline cars,” Musk said after showing off a red Roadster prototype. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”

Musk was equally effusive about the Semi he rode in on, which has Tesla’s enhanced Autopilot system, the streamlined look of Tesla’s passenger cars and a driver’s seat in the center of the cab.

“What does it feel like to drive this truck?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s amazing. … I can drive this thing, and I have no idea how to drive a semi.”

The big reveal took the focus off Tesla’s red ink and slow production ramp-up for the mass-market Model 3 sedan, at least for a night.

The Roadster is scheduled to go into production in 2020, and the Semi should become available in 2019, Musk said. “If you order now, get a truck in two years,” he said.

Musk rattled off Semi statistics aimed at putting diesel trucks to shame. By Tesla’s calculation, the cost per mile for its all-electric Semi would be $1.26, compared with $1.51 for a diesel. And if three streamlined Semis are platooned as a close-following convoy, the cost per mile would go down to 85 cents, Musk said.

“This beats rail,” he added.

The truck should be able to maintain a speed of 65 mph going up a 5 percent grade, compared to a maximum 45 mph for a diesel power train, Musk said. He said it should have a maximum range of 500 miles, and could be charged up for another 400 miles in 30 minutes using Tesla’s yet-to-be-deployed, solar-powered Megacharger stations.

“By the time you are done with your break, the truck is ready to go. You will not be waiting for your truck to charge,” Musk told the truckers in the audience.

Thanks to four independent drive trains, the Semi should be capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds with an 80,000-pound load. Drive-train redundancy should also guard against jackknifing and boost the Semi’s reliability. “We guarantee that this truck will not break down for a million miles,” Musk said.

That’s not the only guarantee Musk gave: He said the windshield glass will be so sturdy that it’s “thermonuclear-explosion-proof.”

“Survives a nuclear explosion, or you get a full refund,” Musk said.

A sporty surprise

After the prototype Semi truck was sent offstage, the lights dimmed, only to come up again, flashing in a sci-fi pattern. The door of a container opened, and the Roadster raced out to the renewed thump of rock music.

“Turns out there was some cargo in the truck,” Musk deadpanned.

The first vehicle that Tesla marketed was the Roadster two-seater sports car, which went out of production in 2012. “People have asked us for a long time, ‘When are you going to make a new Roadster?’ We are making it now,” Musk said.

In a tribute to the movie “Spaceballs,” Musk built a “Ludicrous Mode” into the speed settings for Model S, and tonight he doubled down on the “Spaceballs” reference for the Roadster. “There’s only thing that’s beyond Ludicrous, which is Plaid,” Musk said.

“The new Tesla Roadster will be the fastest production car ever made, period,” he declared.

Here are the stats that Musk used to back up his claim: It’ll go from zero to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds, and from zero to 100 in 4.2 seconds. It’ll do the quarter-mile in 8.9 seconds, and hit a top speed in excess of 250 mph.

Thanks to a 200-kilowatt-hour battery pack, the convertible four-seater should be able to travel at highway speed for 620 miles before recharging.

“These numbers sound nutty, but they’re real,” Musk said.

Musk didn’t mention the numbers having to do with price, but Tesla’s website does: The car will sell at a base price of $200,000, with an advance reservation deposit set at $50,000. A thousand “Founders Series” buyers will be able to go to the front of the line for a car once it becomes available, for an up-front price of $250,000.

Wide range of reactions

Reactions ran the gamut from rhapsodic to restrained.

“Elon promised a truck that would ‘blow your mind clear out of your skull,’ and he delivered,” Wired tweeted.

But some said they weren’t yet sold on the Semi. “We met with Tesla, and at this time we do not see a fit with their product and our fleet,” Dave Bates, senior vice president of operations for Old Dominion Freight Line, told Reuters.

Automotive News quoted Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book, as saying that “Elon’s showmanship remains intact.”

“The specs on the new semi truck and sports car would put both vehicles at the top of their segments … assuming they can be produced and sold as part of a sustainable business plan,” Brauer told Automotive News. “So far that final element has eluded Tesla Motors, which makes it difficult to see these vehicles as more than ‘what if’ concept cars.”