What Tesla’s Master Plan Means for The Future of Fleets
One thing is true about Tesla CEO Elon Musk; he can never be accused of lacking grand ambitions. Back in 2006, when he laid out his plans for the future of his sustainable transportation company, Musk envisioned producing expensive vehicles until the infrastructure was in place to create an EV for a larger consumer base.
By the time something along the lines of a Tesla Model 3 arrived, Musk envisioned solar power generation on a scale where it could affordably charge an EV’s battery, and he hoped SolarCity would be the one handling that side of the equation.
Some 10 years later, Musk and Tesla have delivered on almost every count, which made it necessary to look at the next stage of the Master Plan. In a sweeping declaration of company goals, Musk saw the reach of his “solar electric economy” business expanding to more areas, including:
- Pickup trucks
- Mass transit
- Heavy-duty hauling
- Autonomous car-sharing
The implications for the future of fleets are considerable. Here is what the next phase of Tesla could mean for fleet owners.
Electric Pickup Trucks
Pickups trucks are indispensable in construction companies and utility fleets, but this platform’s usefulness is often undercut by lackluster fuel economy. Pickups get about 15 miles per gallon or worse when running in the city, and fleet operating costs remain high. So far, a fleet owner’s options with electric pickups have been limited at best.
Should Tesla get into the game and deliver a solution with superior fuel economy, fleet owners could take advantage of the savings in maintenance and insurance as well as fueling. As we have seen in the company’s four vehicles in the public eye to date, performance is never an issue for the brand. Whether the purchase price will be right is a more reasonable concern.
Zero-Emissions Heavy-Duty Trucks
When regulators start looking for ways to trim emissions, chances are heavy-duty commecial trucks will become a prime target. Tesla says it has a semi truck in the works that will “deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”
There is already somewhat of a precedent in this department, namely the Nikola One truck that is open for pre-orders. The Class 8 vehicle intends to best diesel trucks in each of the following areas:
- Fuel economy
- Top speed
While Nikola will use a natural gas turbine to charge the battery in its semi, we would assume Tesla has a greener (i.e., pure EV) solution to the same problem up its sleeve. Musk said the truck was in the early stages of development. Semi truck fleets could end up with less than half current operating costs should this vehicle make it to market.
Municipal Transportation Fleets
Elon Musk named greening public transportation fleets among Tesla’s next goals as well. In Musk’s vision, an autonomous bus operating on a zero-emissions powertrain would accommodate more passengers, operate on demand, and work in conjunction with other vehicles to limit wind drag and traffic congestion.
Municipal fleets would be able to comply with increasingly strict emissions caps and achieve clean air goals for the coming decades with electric solutions of this nature. We have already seen the first examples of this technology in action, and grants from the federal government are making the purchase costs reasonable for municipalities looking to replace aging diesel and gas fleets.
While Car2Go had a fleet of electric Smart vehicles available for short-term rental in San Diego, limitations in range led to an early demise for the program. The next phase of the Tesla master plan will include the production of compact SUVs, a model that would be popular in car-sharing fleets.
Drivers who want to borrow a car for a few hours or for the evening would likely find an all-electric SUV appealing. Compared to the limited range of a Smart car (68 miles), a Tesla compact SUV would be built on the Model 3 platform and provide at least 200 miles of range before charging would become necessary.
Musk mentioned that sharing would be available to Tesla owners who did not use their cars for work or otherwise had long stretches where they would be available. This system of owner-shared vehicles could bite into the market of sharing companies.
The Impact of Fully Autonomous Driving
Musk noted that the role of a bus driver in the future may very well transition to that of fleet manager. As operating costs are projected into the future, one of the big changes will be savings on the price of labor. Drivers would not be necessary once fully autonomous vehicles make it to market and can be legally deployed in commercial fleets.
Studies have shown that human error is responsible for far more accidents and wasted fuel than necessary. Switching to a self-driving fleet would lead to even greater fuel economy once right-sizing and anti-drag tactics become standard practice.
More Options for Public Charging
Looking over the state of the electric vehicle market, a major weakness is public charging options, something we covered in a previous blog post. As more EVs make it to market, consumers may have more trouble finding a plug at an available station, and this is a concern for fleet managers trying to add plug-ins for better fuel economy and emissions compliance.
Tesla has taken a unique approach to this issue by installing and managing its own charging infrastructure. Customers who opt-in/pay for Supercharger access with the purchase of a Model 3 are likely to have answers when drivers need a fast charge.
Whereas GM and other automakers are depending on the government and private enterprise to upgrade charging infrastructure, Tesla’s unwavering commitment to plug-ins guarantees a large percentage of customers will be able to fast-charge in public on the company’s own network.
Bright Future for Fleets?
The first phase of Tesla’s master plan took a decade to see major progress, and the earliest we see the dramatic changes of Part II coming would be the 2020s. However, the arrival of the Model 3 sedan (and later the SUV) should provide fleet owners with an example of what coming technology will deliver.
Even a slick electric sedan at an affordable price point could help a fleet reduce operating costs and upgrade their brand image. The impact on commercial work fleets would be felt farther down the road, but if Tesla succeeds with its newest grand ambitions, many organizations stand to benefit.