SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla Inc. was slated to unveil a prototype electric big-rig truck late Thursday, which may be able to drive itself, throwing the company into a new market even as it struggles to roll out an affordable sedan central to the company’s future.
Chief Executive Elon Musk has described electric trucks as Tesla’s next effort to move the economy away from fossil fuels through projects including electric cars, solar roofs and power storage.
Some analysts fear the truck, named Tesla Semi, will be an expensive distraction for Tesla, which is burning cash, has never posted an annual profit, and is in self-described “manufacturing hell” starting up production of the $35,000 Model 3 sedan.
The young market for electric cargo trucks is mostly focused on medium duty, not the heavy big rig market Tesla is after. The power capacity, weight and cost of batteries all limit a truck’s ability, analysts say.
The truck would have a working range of 200 to 300 miles, at the low end of what is considered “long-haul” trucking. Diesel trucks are capable of traveling up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel.
Musk, who has pushed back the debut twice, said this week the truck would “blow your mind clear out of your skull.” It was slated to be introduced in a webcast at http://www.tesla.com on Thursday at 8 p.m. PST.
“Semi specs are better than anything I’ve seen reported so far. Semi eng/design team work is aces, but other needs are greater right now,” Musk tweeted in October, announcing the second delay.
“It can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte,” he added on Wednesday, posting a picture of a backlit, shadowed Semi with trapezoidal blue headlights. He has forecast large-scale production within a couple of years.
Tesla would need to invest substantially to create a factory for those trucks. The company is currently spending about $1 billion per quarter, largely to set up the Model 3 factory, and is contemplating a factory in China to build cars. Its battery Gigafactory is located in Northern Nevada, east of Reno.
Shares of Tesla closed up $1.20, or 0.39 percent, at $312.50.