DHL Predicts Big Savings From Tesla Semi Electric Trucks

Purchase prices will be higher, but operating costs will be lower.

byStephen Edelstein|
Tesla News photo

When it comes to the Tesla Semi, DHL is thinking green—as in money. The company expects to recoup the difference in purchase price between the electric trucks and conventional diesel rigs in less than two years, an executive told Reuters.

The Tesla trucks may cost more than diesel trucks, but DHL expects much lower operating costs, Jim Monkmeyer, president of transportation at DHL Supply Chain, said. Eliminating the cost of diesel fuel will be one area of savings, but DHL also expects maintenance costs to be lower, since electric motors have fewer moving parts, he said.

Tesla has promised 20-percent savings in per-mile operating costs. It claims the Semi will cost $1.26 per mile, compared to what the company calls the industry average of $1.51 per mile. But the latter figure is disputed because it is based on current fuel prices and diesel-truck fuel economy. Both could fluctuate over time, analysts note. Lower fuel prices or higher fuel economy could change the equation.

DHL has 10 Tesla Semis on order. Monkmeyer told Reuters that the company is just testing the waters and that it is years away from any potential wholesale switch from diesel to electric trucks. 

But DHL is no stranger to electrification. In its home country of Germany, DHL operates small electric vans for local deliveries. The company actually owns the rights to a specific design and has partnered with Ford on the development of other vans. The challenge for all players in the growing electric-truck market is scaling up electrification from local delivery vehicles to long-haul semi trucks.

DHL's enthusiasm shows that electric trucks can both reduce emissions and make good business sense for fleet operators. But that won't mean much if Tesla doesn't deliver the trucks as promised. Tesla has said deliveries will begin in 2019, but the company has missed many production deadlines in the past.