Diesel Engine vs Electric: Rolling Rivalry

It is obvious that our government is steaming ahead in favor of electric vehicles. But is it also obvious that this will ultimately be the main technology powering our motorways? Let’s discuss electric vehicles in the diesel market and the pros and cons of each technology in these applications.

The specifications

let’s compare apples to apples or oranges and whatever metaphorical fruit you prefer. This is really where the rubber meets the road (pun intended). Will electric motors be better? Will they just blow out the diesel engine and leave all the competition in the dust? The first thing we need to answer this question is data. I researched and got data from all over and compiled these tables. Here is a great start 👇. On Semi-trucks and haulers.

Diesel EnginesTesla Semi
Payload: 45,000 lbsPayload: 43,000 lbs
Enviomentlay Friendly ❌Enviomentlay Friendly ✅
Refueling Infrastructure ✅Refueling Infrastructure (getting better) ❌
Technician Availability ✅ Technician Availability ❌
Cost Per Mile: $1.51Cost Per Mile: $1.36
2000 Mile Range600 Mile Range ❌
Refuel Time: 10 minutesRefuel Time: 30 minutes
Ample Power ✅Ample Power ✅

Tesla vs Diesel Semi Results

In my opinion, there is no clear winner here. I think diesel engines will remain the main market choice for some time. All of this hoopla about the electric revolution is true but that future is in the distant future. We have another working lifetime before we see these changes. Exciting for our grandkids. 👴

Limits to electric in the heavy-duty diesel market

The biggest setback for electric semis and hauling vehicles is the mile or Km range. Traditional diesel transfer trucks travel a couple of thousand miles if needed on a single fill-up. The electric big rig is limited by battery capacity. The other issue you create when you increase the battery size is the weight of the battery itself.

We see a path over time to 1,000 km range for an heavy duty truck.

Elon Musk

Even with this bright future, there are limits to what can be done to the weight of the battery and the need for space and load. I am hopeful for the future of electric but I think we have a while before the market is majority electric.

In the US, Class 8 trucks are required to weigh less than 80,000 lbs including the load.

Musk said Tesla might have to give up a ton of capacity:

You are able to carry basically the same cargo as a diesel truck. We think that maybe there’s 1-ton penalty. Maybe. At this point, we think that we can have less than 1-ton cargo reduction and we think long term it’s going to be zero cargo reduction for electric trucks.

Elon Musk

So in order to increase distance, you have to increase weight. For the shippers and the entire market to build around 53’ trailers, this will be a process to adapt to what Tesla is offering. While I’m quite sure a few companies will take advantage of these tesla semis but ultimately it will take the market many years to adapt to electric.

Electric vs the small diesel market

How about the small diesel market? The Power-stroke. Farmers and companies alike sing diesels to power their light-heavy needs. from road call vehicles to trucks pulling horses the need is great for light diesel engines. Could the tesla cybertruck disrupt the market? Let’s look at the specs.


Let’s compare the cybertruck now with the lighter Ford powerstroke. I think this is a fair fight. These two options are fairly comparable.

Ford 6.7L V8 Turbo DieselTesla Cybertruck Tri
504 per tank (48 Gallons)500 Mile Range
Seats 6Seats 6
Price: $87,375.Price: $69,900
935 lb-ft @1,800 rpm1000 lb-ft ✅
0-60 mph in 8.3 seconds ❌0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds ✅
Towing Capacity (lbs) up to 35,000 ✅Towing Capacity (lbs) 14,000 ❌
Payload Capacity (lbs) 7,640 ✅Payload Capacity (lbs) 3,500 ❌
Cargo Volume (cu. ft.) 79 ❌Cargo Volume (cu. ft.) 100 ✅
Ground Clearance (inches) 8.6″ ❌Ground Clearance (inches) 16″ ✅
450 horsepower ❌800 horsepower ✅

Ford vs tesla results.

We see they both have a lot going for them but the main issue is consumer application. What is the main reason people are buying diesel over a gas vehicle now? Is it reliability, fuel costs, or longevity? The Tesla wins on many fronts that may draw away some customers looking for the horsepower and toque alone but I believe it stalls out with the ultimate factor for truck buyers in the category, tow capacity.

Limitation to the electric

it’s obvious that the towing capacity is going to be a big problem in this market. If you can’t haul you’re really out in this game, because, most of what goes on is pulling trailers when you’re talking about a light diesel engine. The maximum towing capacity of the Tesla is 14,000 pounds which is just not going to cut it. I don’t believe this will remain this way. As for now, this is a nonstarter for most farmers, and businesses need a vehicle to fit this application.

Diesel companies are pushing ahead

In an article by forbes.com, the CEO of Cummins seemed very confident that diesel power would be around for well into the future.

Teslas won’t drive our economy,” he says. “They’ll drive rich people.” 

Thomas Linebarger, Cummins CEO

They have so many systems in place to overcome issues and make advancements to the diesel power train. We are into the 1000th iteration of the diesel engine and we haven’t reached the potential of power or efficiency yet.

There is so much infrastructure and expertise built into the diesel engine market at this point it is going to take a long time for electric vehicles to make sense to these types of consumers. All of these companies are working hard to make sure they are viable and for now, that is the diesel engine.

Summing up

The electric market is exploding and it’s bringing about some amazing advancements in the truck and trailer and light truck applications but as for now, we see that they just can’t compete with it comes to diesel. I look forward to seeing what Tesla and other elect manufacturers come up with in the future.

Johnathan Coker

Johnathan Coker is an ASE and EVT Certified Mechanic. He is married with two kids and lives in sunny Florida. He loves taking stuff apart and teaching others how he messed it up.

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