Tesla's Electric Semi Could Trigger a Commercial Trucking War, Wall Street Analyst Says

Morgan Stanley expects Tesla to begin taking deposits on the truck right after its unveiling.

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One plug-in big rig could start some serious fires in the trucking market. Tesla's electric semi-truck could generate lots of revenue for the automaker, and force other companies to develop their own electric commercial trucks, according to a major Wall Street Tesla bull.

In a September 6 note to clients, Morgan Stanley said it expects Tesla to begin taking $5,000 refundable deposits for the truck right after its unveiling, according to Axios. Lead report author Ravi Shanker said the automaker could receive thousands of orders very quickly, forcing other companies to launch their own competitor models.

To some extent, that's already happening. Cummins recent unveiled a prototype electric truck, Volvo has tested a hybrid semi-truck, and Mercedes-Benz is experimenting with electric commercial trucks. Toyota is testing its "Project Portal" hydrogen semi truck in California, and Nikola Motors is peddling the hydrogen-powered Nikola One.

The Tesla semi-truck could trigger an avalanche of orders from fleet buyers, Shanker wrote. If fleet operators don't place orders quickly, they could be stuck waiting years for their trucks to be delivered. That's already the case with the backlog of Model 3 reservations.

But while Model 3 reservation holders are dealing with inconvenience, Tesla truck buyers could be left at a competitive disadvantage, Shanker wrote. He estimates that the electric truck will offer a 70-percent cost advantage, so companies that don't have it in their fleets will be left spending more to operate diesel-powered semi-trucks.

Tesla is expected to unveil the semi-truck later this month, but Shanker believes the final production-ready version won't go on sale until 2020. It will cost less than $100,000, but only because Tesla will sell it without the battery pack, he predicts. 

Shanker expects Tesla to employ a swapping system so that trucks can drive long distances without having to wait for batteries to recharge. However, it's worth noting that battery swapping proved to be a nonstarter for the Model S.

By 2028, Tesla could earn $11 billion from semi trucks, Shanker predicts, based on both predicted sales of 25,000 units a year and revenue from servicing the trucks and their battery packs. Of course, that's assuming truckers really are as enthusiastic about the potential cost savings of electric vehicles as Shanker believes.