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Truck Talk: Delayed gratification edition

Tesla Semi pragmatism; long game in used truck storefronts, and a Transformers' mystery

Editor’s Note: Corrects role of Mack Granite in Transformers’ “Dark of the Moon” to Megatron instead of Optimus Prime.

Tesla delays the Semi for a fourth time. Is Elon Musk losing his first-mover edge in electric trucks? Low-mileage used trucks are hard to get. So why are major players adding storefronts to sell them? And is that a transforming Mack Truck — or not?

Lost advantage or …

With its fourth delay to planned production in late 2023, a case can be made that the Tesla Semi electric truck is losing the first-mover advantage it claimed from its reveal in late 2017.

Or maybe not.

“If Tesla can make a 400- to 500-mile range semi, it will immediately have the best truck on the market,” Gartner smart mobility analyst Mike Ramsey told me. “That’s the allure of Tesla sticking with it. The other companies will have solid offerings, but they won’t compete well with that sort of range.”

In fact, NFI Industries, which will transform its entire drayage fleet in Southern California to battery-electric trucks in the next few years, sees an upper limit of about 300 miles of range for the offerings from traditional manufacturers. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells — which are anathema to Tesla founder Elon Musk — are a likely alternative.

The Tesla Semi — delayed again. (Photo: Tesla)

There is a certain pragmatism in Tesla’s approach to using scarce microchips to boost production of its Model 3 and Model Y passenger cars instead of the Semi, or even the popular but polarizing Cyberruck. 

“Tesla probably shouldn’t bother with the Semi given its other products and their popularity, but its leadership has shown a strong resistance to conventional thinking,” Ramsey said.

But did Tesla push old-line truck manufacturers to accelerate plans for electric trucks? Antti Lindstrom, trucking analyst at IHS Markit, says no. It’s the regulations, stupid.

California will begin requiring sales quotas for zero-emission commercial trucks in 2024 before pushing diesel-powered trucks off the road entirely in the next decade.

“The market is driven by legislative measures, which are pushing the demand in the zero-emissions direction,” Lindstrom told me. “The industry is responding to what will be expected of them in order to match the emissions standards set by markets.” 

“The market is driven by legislative measures, which are pushing the demand in the zero-emissions direction. The industry is responding to what will be expected of them in order to match the emissions standards set by markets.”

Antti Lindstrom, IHS Markit trucking analyst

Ramsey thinks Tesla did have an influence on the industry.

“It showed that there would be demand for their EV trucks and gave a push to the incumbents,” he said.

So it really doesn’t matter when — or if — Tesla starts building the Semi. On several fronts, its work is done. Lots of earned media attention for a mostly phantom product. Musk says just enough, cryptically enough, to keep questions coming about the Semi.

It is important to remember, Lindstrom said, that Musk has historically done what he says he will do. He just doesn’t always do it when he says he will.

Get your used truck … showroom

FreightWaves writes monthly about the used truck market, with its fortunes taking cues from what is happening with new truck deliveries. The present squeeze on the availability of low-mileage used trucks is a result of upstream supply chain constraints crippling manufacturers’ ability to complete new trucks.

Fleets are reluctantly holding onto equipment they would have traded. That has sent used truck prices through the roof. 

“Because the law of supply and demand has not and cannot be repealed, used truck prices are left with no alternative but to continue climbing,” ACT Research Vice President Steve Tam said.

So why are so many used truck outlets being added? Ryder last week said it is adding five outlets, bringing its total to 60. The SelecTrucks unit of DaimlerTrucks has added eight storefronts since January. 

What gives?

“Despite the use of the internet as a selling tool, many truck buyers like to ‘kick the tires’ before plunking down a healthy sum of cash and/or taking out a loan for a used truck,” Tam told me. “For those buyers, there is no substitute for having a storefront. These facilities will likely also offer service, which provides a great stream of revenue.”

Daimler Trucks North America has added eight SelecTrucks used truck locations so far in 2021. (Photo Daimler Trucks North America)

Eugene Tangney, vice president of global vehicle sales at Ryder System Inc., suggests the company is playing the long game.

“Ryder understands the market cycles, and we strive to react quickly as they change,” he said. “Ryder has always maintained a large retail footprint in the U.S. and Canada to be the transportation provider of choice in pre-owned commercial vehicle sales. With this expansion, we are staying close to our customers and potential customers.”

Daimler declined to talk used storefront strategy. But it did name a new president for SelecTrucks, welcoming back T.J. Reed, who left Tier 1 supplier Meritor Inc. to rejoin DTNA.

Moving the metal

Maybe there are fewer used trucks arriving on used truck lots, but that doesn’t mean the metal isn’t moving. Olathe, Kansas-based Team DriveAway is adding a portal to let customers know where the trucks they are moving from one place to another are at any given time. That includes the status of their vehicle moves, the time of pickup and on-time delivery. 

Team DriveAway making visibility of truck moves easier. (Photo: TeamDriveAway)

Is Mack back in ‘Transformers 7’?

The Mack Granite heavy-duty truck may or may not be making its return to the Transformers movie franchise next summer. Photos from the seventh installment of the cars-to-robots action flick called “Transformers: Rise of Beasts” showed up on Instagram last week courtesy of director Steven Cappel. 

The Drive was one of several outlets to offer a vehicle rundown for the film. The black truck is identified as a Mack Granite, which, if correct, would mark Mack’s first appearance in a Transformers’ movie since the third installment in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” back in 2011. For its part, Mack isn’t saying. Something about not discussing future products.

But looking closely, the grill suggests more of a Kenworth W900L.

Transformer tease: Is this a Mack Granite or some other truck? 

“Mack is proud of our participation in past movies in the Transformers series, and we look forward to any future opportunities that may arise with this franchise,” David Galbraith, Mack Trucks vice president of global brand and marketing, told Truck Talk.

Mack clearly is proud of its past association with Transformers. A spokesman dug up archived video and stills of the Granite as the alter ego of Transformers leader Optimus Prime in “Dark of the Moon.”

The Mack Granite as Optimus Prime’s alter ego in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” from 2011. (Photo: Mack Trucks Historical Museum)

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Talk delivered by email on Fridays.


Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.