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story.lead_photo.caption This artist’s rendering provided by Tesla shows the new electric big rig the automaker unveiled Thursday. The vehicles can be reserved with a $5,000 deposit each.

Two Arkansas companies are among the first to say they will buy several of Tesla's new electric trucks.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services of Lowell announced Friday morning that it reserved a number of the vehicles. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart followed shortly after, saying it has ordered 15.

"Reserving Tesla trucks marks an important step in our efforts to implement industry-changing technology," J.B. Hunt President and Chief Executive Officer John Roberts said in a prepared statement. "We believe electric trucks will be the most beneficial on local and dray routes, and we look forward to utilizing this new, sustainable technology."

The company unveiled its new electric tractors for semis Thursday night near its design center in Hawthorne, Calif. The trucks can be reserved for $5,000 each. Tesla has not yet announced a price for the vehicles.

"We have a long history of testing new technology -- including alternative-fuel trucks -- and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-cut electric vehicle," Wal-Mart said in a statement.

Wal-Mart had been scouting this kind of technology ahead of the announcement, a company spokesman said. The 15 trucks it ordered are part of a pilot program is has with Tesla to test how to best use the new technology in its supply-chain operations.

Five of its Teslas will be tested in U.S. markets, and the remaining 10 will be tested in Canada, the company said. J.B. Hunt said the trucks will be used in its West Coast operations, in the intermodal and dedicated contract services divisions, according to a news release.

With automated technology on the horizon, companies such as J.B Hunt and Wal-Mart are putting their resources toward developing or purchasing new tools to remain competitive.

Earlier this fall, at the Northwest Arkansas Tech Summit in Rogers, J.B. Hunt director of innovation and disruption Gary Dowdy spoke about the need for older, enterprising companies to pay close attention to ingenuity from new companies.

In April, J.B. Hunt began a $500 million investment campaign over five years to develop "innovative and disruptive technologies." A spokesman for J.B. Hunt said the Tesla trucks are an investment separate from the $500 million innovation commitment.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the semi will be capable of traveling 500 miles on an electric charge -- even with a full 80,000-pound load -- and will cost less than a diesel semi considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said production will begin in 2019.

"We're confident that this is a product that's better in every way from a feature standpoint," Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling.

The truck will have Tesla's Autopilot system, which can maintain a set speed and slow automatically in traffic. It also has a system that keeps the vehicle in its lane. Musk said several Tesla semis will be able to travel in a convoy, autonomously following one another.

Musk said Tesla plans a worldwide network of solar-powered "megachargers" that could get the trucks back up to 400 miles of range after charging for only 30 minutes.

USA Truck senior marketing manager David Turner said it's too soon for the company to decide if it wants to buy a Tesla semi-truck. "From what I read it's more geared for [less-than-truckload] type service," he wrote in an email.

A spokesman for ArcBest said the Fort Smith company has not ordered any of the Tesla trucks, but said the maintenance and renovation departments have their eyes on this and other technologically innovative moves in the industry.

P.A.M. Transportation Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Business on 11/18/2017

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