The oft-delayed Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) battery-powered semi-truck is in the news again following a leaked internal memo from CEO Elon Musk saying the company needs to go “all out” to get the truck on the road.
The memo, first reported Wednesday by Reuters, doesn’t give a production date. The current expectation is 2021 after launch delays in 2019 and this year. Limited production is expected this year, Musk said on Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call.
“It’s time to go all out and bring the Tesla Semi to volume production,” the memo said. “It’s been in limited production so far, which has allowed us to improve many aspects of the design. Production of the battery and powertrain would take place at Giga Nevada, with most of the other work probably occurring in other states.”
The timing of the memo coincides with buzz surrounding startup Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA), which began public trading June 4 and has seen a runup in its stock price despite extreme volatility. Meanwhile, Tesla shares traded above $1,000 for the first time on Wednesday.
Nikola has a manufacturing joint venture with IVECO to produce its heavy-duty Tre battery-electric day cab in Ulm, Germany in mid-2021. The company is best known for its Class 8 hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks planned for production in a new plant south of Phoenix, Arizona, in 2023.
Musk is a critic of fuel cells for long-haul trucking, calling them “fool cells.”
In another coincidence, Nikola announced Wednesday that former Tesla director of manufacturing, Mark Duchesne, would be its new global head of manufacturing. Duchesne worked at Tesla from 2012 to 2016.
Skeptics to supporters
While major truck makers for years questioned the viability of the technology, industry leader Daimler Trucks this week formed a fuel cell truck subsidiary.
Daimler Truck Fuel Cell GmbH & Co. KG precedes a joint venture with Sweden’s Volvo Group to mass produce fuel cell trucks and stationary fuel cells as emergency backup power for data centers.
As recently as April 2019, Daimler Trucks North America CEO Roger Nielsen said he can “see a glimpse of fuel cells on the horizon. But it will not be this generation of engineers who will be delivering it.”
Tesla and Nikola have some of the same customers, including Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD), which has ordered 40 Tesla semis and up to 800 Nikola fuel cell trucks. The beverage maker is focused on the zero-emissions promise of electric trucking rather than whether it is fueled by hydrogen or batteries.
Working with electric truck rival BYD, Nikola made an emissions-free delivery of beer to the home of the St. Louis Blues hockey team in November 2019. Getting hydrogen stations ready for routes regularly traveled by Anheuser-Busch is a priority after launching its battery-electric trucks in Europe, Nikola Executive Chairman Trevor Milton told FreightWaves.