For reasons which shall soon become obvious.
We visited Frito-Lay to find out what the Semi’s interior looks like, and how it drives and charges.
Expect no surprises, that’s my advice. Because it’s gonna shake out exactly as anybody who’s been following this EV foofaraw already knows it must.
Tesla fans with Ruffled feathers over perpetually delayed products can finally Lay off the brand. After much waiting (only four years late), the electric Tesla Semi’s first customer, PepsiCo, has taken delivery of its first examples of the big rig. The beverage and snack food conglomerate’s Frito-Lay division will take center stage in the company’s Tesla truck rollout plans at its Modesto, California, factory and distribution center, so we visited the upgraded 80-acre zero-emissions facility to experience the Tesla Semi firsthand and talk to its drivers about what it’s like to drive.
Frito-Lay’s 15 new Tesla Semis made their debut at an event celebrating the Modesto factory’s transformation into a zero-emissions pilot project for Pepsi as it aims to achieve zero emissions across its operations by 2040. The revamped facility is massive: 500,000 square feet dedicated to turning potatoes and corn into Lays, Ruffles, Doritos, Cheetos, and Fritos chips, powered by a massive onsite solar facility and local renewable energy projects, both backed by 2.7 MWh of onsite battery storage. Helping the factory distribute its snacks throughout the American west are three electric BYD 8Y yard tractors, six Peterbilt 220EV electric box trucks for local last-mile deliveries, 38 natural-gas powered Volvo VNL trucks for long-distance slogs, and of course, six (and counting) Tesla Semis, used for out-and-back trips across the region.
Making “three times the power of the average diesel semi,” according to a media-trained Tesla rep, the electric Tesla Semi effectively sports a lightly modified Model S Plaid tri-motor powertrain spun around backward. The Model S’s front motor drives the Semi’s rear axle, functioning as the “highway drive unit,” while the Plaid’s dual rear motors are mounted on the Semi’s middle axle. These motors feature a Rivian-like clutch, allowing them to be used for acceleration and to decouple once at speed for improved efficiency. Considering the bestselling semi in the U.S., the Freightliner Cascadia, sports 350 hp in its basic form and that “three times” that figure is 1,050, we’re fairly confident in saying the Semi matches the Model S and Model X Plaid’s 1,020 hp, and possibly its 1,050 lb-ft of torque, as well.
As for its battery—well, logic dictates we should look at the Plaid again. The few PepsiCo Tesla Semi drivers present during our visit said the truck has a 1,000-kWh battery pack, or 1 megawatt-hour (MWh), which equals 10 Plaid battery packs daisy-chained together. That jives with Tesla’s claim of 500 miles of range and company chief Elon Musk’s claim of the Semi using 2 kW per mile traveled. In real-world use, Frito-Lay’s drivers told us the Semi’s routes are much shorter. A typical day for them might have them leaving Modesto in the morning with a load of chips (weighing less than the truck’s 82,000 gross combined vehicle-weight rating) and running an out-and-back loop to places like San Jose or Concord, both about 85 miles away.
Hey, that oughta work out great. After all, over my years of driving big rigs, I can’t really recall hearing of ANY trucker EVER being expected to cover more than 170 miles in a single day. But wait, it gets even better still.
The out-and-backs are crucial because at the moment there are few places to charge an electric Tesla Semi. Frito-Lay installed four Superchargers onsite in dedicated “Tesla Semi” parking stalls, all of which feature a unique squarish plug incompatible with any other Tesla we’re aware of. The chargers are capable of outputting 750 kW, far exceeding the 250-kW peak rates of Tesla’s passenger vehicles and existing Supercharger network. That, says Frito-Lay, is good enough to charge its fleet of Tesla Semis from nearly empty to 70 percent in about a half hour (good for 400 miles), and to 100 percent in about 90 minutes.
Interestingly, the four Tesla chargers are positioned in such a way that the Semis must unhitch their trailers and back in to plug into each one’s charge port, which is located on the driver’s side, just forward of the middle axle.
Ohhhh yeah, the truckers are gonna just LOOOOOVE that. “Extended” range, for certain values of the word “extended,” plus the added hassle of having to drop the trailer every time you need to “gas up” the useless hunk of junk too? I ask you, what’s not to like here?
And believe me, hassle it is: first, scramble underneath to pull the handle on the fifth wheel and unlock the kingpin. Then, sweat yourself into a lather winding down the rusty, stiff, recalcitrant landing gear on the trailer. Which in itself can be quite damned hazardous, actually: several years back, my brother knocked himself near-unconscious when a landing-gear handle kicked back on him and whacked him upside the haid. Ended up having to get stitches, that’s how severely it laid him open.
And yes, the same damned thing has happened to me plenty of times too sans the stitches part of it, along with every other unfortunate soul cursed to the trucking life, guar-on-teed. It’s just one of those things you gotta deal with, y’know?
Yep, sounds like those Frito-Lay/Pepsico boys have themselves a lot to look forward to with these fine, fine machines.