In what has been a pretty ordinary week for the zero emission truck start up companies, it has been revealed that Tesla’s bold battery electric prime mover the Semi has been delayed, yet again.
Hot on the heels of that revelation was the news that Nikola founder, Trevor Milton has been charged with security fraud in the US over staged videos that showed the Nikola prime mover moving under its own power, when it seems it was actually being rolled down a hill for the cameras.
It’s been quiet on the Tesla truck front and a while since we last heard about the Tesla Semi, which is planned to be the automaker’s first model aimed at the commercial market and ominously updates on the Telsa have become less frequent, aside from occasional ‘spy’ photos of prototype trucks making appearances in California, while the company said it was preparing a new separate manufacturing facility in Nevada to produce the trucks themselves.
However the Semi finally received an official update this week from Tesla, even if it was buried in a paragraph about other Telsa car models including the Model Y and Cybertruck.
“The pace of the respective production ramps will be influenced by the successful introduction of many new product and manufacturing technologies, ongoing supply-chain related challenges and regional permitting. To better focus on these factories, and due to the limited availability of battery cells and global supply chain challenges, we have shifted the launch of the Semi truck program to 2022. We are also making progress on the industrialization of Cybertruck, which is currently planned for Austin production subsequent to Model Y,” Tesla stated in its SEC filing.
According to reports this delay is related to issues with the company’s advanced 4680 battery cells which have been designed to be part of a structural battery pack thanks to their tables design, and which Tesla says promise large improvement in range while being half as expensive to produce and lighter overall.
The new 4680 cells are perhaps more crucial to production of the Semi than they are to car production such as its Model S, which can still be produced without them, however the 4680 cells are apparently critical for the Semi and also for the planned Model Y cross over SUV.
“We have successfully validated the performance and lifetime of our 4680 cells produced at our Kato facility in California,” the company said in the same SEC filing. “We are nearing the end of manufacturing validation at Kato: field quality and yield are at viable levels and our focus is now on improving the 10 per cent of manufacturing processes that currently bottleneck production output. While substantial progress has been made, we still have work ahead of us before we can achieve volume production. Internal crash testing of our structural pack architecture with a single-piece front casting has been successful.”
Tesla had been expected to announce that some progress had been made with the 4680 cells without giving a firmer timeline for their mass production, so this week’s statement perhaps didn’t alter expectations regarding the cells too much.
It seems Tesla doesn’t quite have the lead it once professed to have when it comes to heavy duty battery-electric class 8 trucks, and the issues with its 4680 have become a particular high-priority item for many US stock market analysts.
With the likes of Daimler, Volvo, Toyota, Traton and Paccar, all well advanced or already launching battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks, then the longer Tesla’s Semi is delayed, the less credence will be placed in its overly optimistic claims.