Tesla’s November 16 introduction of both the new Tesla Semi and the Tesla Roadster managed to impress even observers used to the electric carmaker’s lofty ambitions. When they come to market, the Roadster will be the fastest-accelerating production car in the world, and the Semi will deliver more range, for a lower price, than almost anybody expected.
Those and other promises would be difficult or impossible to fulfill with batteries on the market today. At current battery prices, Bloomberg estimates the battery for a freight truck with 500 miles of range would cost more than $100,000, but Tesla estimates that the entire truck will only cost $180,000.
Similarly, the power and range Tesla is promising for the Roadster will take a battery more than twice as big as anything in a current Model X or Model S.
Tesla says the Semi will be able to suck up 400 miles worth of juice in 30 minutes, but that would mean charging more than 10 times faster than Tesla’s current best chargers.
The Semi isn’t set to hit the road until late 2019, and the new Roadster isn’t due until 2020. Battery prices and sizes have dropped dramatically in the last five years, and many projections have them dropping by another half by then. The same goes for power density, meaning that by the time the Roadster and Semi go into full-scale production, batteries may well be good enough to do what Elon Musk is promising. A Carnegie Mellon battery expert speaking to Jalopnik agreed that the Roadster’s performance benchmarks were at least theoretically plausible, though they might also require advances in tire technology.
Announcing products years before perfecting the technology needed to make them work is certainly an unorthodox approach. It’s unlikely to appease critics of Tesla’s rapid spending, who tend to see displays like the Roadster reveal as media stunts aimed at raising badly-needed cash.