Someone is going to have to break this news to the Clydesdales.
Anheuser-Busch announced this week that it ordered up 40 all-electric semitrucks from automaker Tesla to handle high-volume deliveries from breweries to wholesalers. The pre-order is one of the largest announced to date for the Tesla Semi line of electric heavy-duty vehicles, which are slated to go into production in 2019.
Anheuser-Busch said the move is part of a company-wide strategy to employ new technologies that will reduce the environmental impact of its massive fleet of delivery vehicles. The company has publicly committed to reducing its operational carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2025.
But the Tesla electric trucks also make sense from an operational perspective, said James Sembrot, Senior Director of Logistics Strategy.
“At Anheuser-Busch, we are constantly seeking new ways to make our supply chain more sustainable, efficient, and innovative,” Sembrot said in the announcement. “This investment in Tesla semi-trucks helps us achieve these goals while improving road safety and lowering our environmental impact.”
The company plans to use the new vehicles for distribution to wholesalers within 200 miles of its various brewery locations. That's well within the 500-mile range that Tesla has promised for the new trucks. The 40 Tesla vehicles will be integrated into the company's existing fleet of around 750 diesel powered trucks dedicated to these routes.
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Going electric has several potential advantages for large-scale trucking operations. Obviously, fuel costs will improve rather dramatically. According to figures from the American Transportation Research Institute, an industry research group, Anheuser-Busch spends around $120 million per year on long-haul transportation between breweries and wholesalers.
Anheuser-Busch is also citing improved safety and efficiency for drivers, as the Tesla trucks are projected to be safer and more reliable than traditional trucks.
On the other hand, initial costs for the new trucks will be more expensive. Tesla's trucks will list for $150,000 to $200,000 each, while traditional heavy-duty, diesel-powered semis can be purchased for under $150,000
And to be clear, the new electric trucks will be piloted by human drivers. While there are some lane monitoring and emergency braking features built into the Tesla Semis, there are no plans to incorporate full, autonomous-vehicle technology.
(In a separate test program in 2016, Anheuser-Busch worked with autonomous vehicle company Otto to complete a 132-mile delivery using a self-driving truck.)
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Since Tesla announced its semi line of heavy-duty vehicles in November, several other major companies have announced plans to make purchases, including high-volume operations like Wal-Mart, trucking company J.B. Hunt, and the Michigan-based grocery chain Meijer. Tesla has not made any official announcement yet on total pre-orders.
John Malloy, an analyst with the international auto recruitment firm AutoKineto, said the move by Anheuser-Busch is a major development for the viability of electric freight trucks — and electric vehicles in general.
“This is a great one,” Malloy said. “Electric vehicles will represent the biggest revolution in manufacturing the country has ever seen.”
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