Elon Musk in front of the new Tesla Semis at the Semi Unveil Event on Thursday, Nov. 16.
Tesla Motors/Alexis Georgeson
On Thursday night, in a hangar at the Hawthorne Municipal Airport, hundreds of people — mostly men who were truck buyers, press, and Tesla owners who had won the opportunity to be there because they referred so many new buyers — were gathered to see Elon Musk unveil a new Tesla Semi truck. For 20 minutes or so, before the presentation got started, a droning, repetitive heavy bass instrumental song played as the crowd snapped photos of the scene. They were excited, energized, pumped. It was a crowd filled with testosterone, who were there to see their idol. They did not mind the wait.
When Musk finally emerged — jumping out of one of the two new semi prototypes that drove up to the front of the hangar — it was to wild cheers and applause. He was wearing an olive green jacket, (about which Verge executive editor Dieter Bohn tweeted, “I am more interested in Elon's jacket than his trucks”), a black sweater, and jeans. He had a trace of a mustache on his upper lip. He speaks with a faint accent that's not exactly his native South African, but sounds maybe, vaguely, Swiss. He is the king of the nerds, incredibly rich but obsessed with making adult-sized versions of little-boy toys — rockets, fast cars, big trucks, trains.
These trucks are electric, and they look like the future. As Musk went through the specs of the trucks, he garnered raucous applause each time he mentioned a stat or a figure that the crowd liked. The first thing was that these big boy trucks are fast — they go from zero to 60 in five seconds with no cargo, and 20 seconds when they're trailing 80,000 pounds. The crowd loves this, since it seems like they perhaps had been worried that these big, heavy electric trucks would also be slow. But Musk knows what his people want, and what they want is speed.
What they also want, it seems, is range, and the trucks have it: They will be able to go for 500 miles without a charge. From Los Angeles, this is enough to get to Las Vegas (270 miles), Tucson (488 miles), or Sacramento (384 miles), but not enough to get to Salt Lake City (688 miles) or Albuquerque (789 miles). But if a driver wants to go to Salt Lake City or Albuquerque, all she has to do is recharge at one of the Tesla “megachargers,” which will give the trucks another 400 miles of charge in only 30 minutes.
The crowd loved this too. They also loved all the truck's safety features, which are standard in other Tesla models but do seem revolutionary in the truck world, given the crowd's reaction to automatic emergency braking. One man yelled, “Elon for President!” No one laughed, really; you got the sense that the people in this hangar would vastly prefer Elon Musk over practically anyone else to lead this country, even though he was actually born in Africa. “Seems like a miserable job!” he responded, and the crowd laughed because Musk had just shown he can make an impromptu joke, and this endeared him to them even more.
It's probably not that surprising that the thing that Musk seemed most excited about is the truck's thermonuclear-proof glass, and here he made another joke: “It survives a nuclear explosion, or you get a refund!” It's possible this joke was read from a teleprompter, but it still got a laugh.
Elon Musk and the new four-seater Tesla Roadster.
Tesla Motors/Alexis Georgeson
At the end of the truck presentation, the Queens of the Stone Age song “Feet Don't Fail Me” played as Musk greeted his fans, in the same way a rock star or a politician might. But the evening wasn't over. Musk had a surprise up his sleeve — or at least in the bed of his truck. A truck backed into the front of the hangar and in a cloud of dry ice, a car emerged down the ramp. It was bright red, and it sped around the track outside to the crowd's great delight, as the Beastie Boys' “Sabotage” blasted over the speakers. It was the new, previously unannounced Tesla Roadster, and the crowd could hardly believe their good fortune at getting to see this brand-new car before anyone else in the world. But the best, for them, was yet to come: Musk told the crowd that the new roadster, a four-seater, will go from zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds. The fastest production car ever made, he said.
There was a collective quick inhalation of breath, and for just a moment, the crowd was too stunned to even cheer. But then, of course, they did.