Nikola’s hydrogen-electric trucks rolling closer to reality
Posted: April 17, 2019 by John G. Smith
Nikola remains committed to hydrogen-electric vehicles, but will also offer battery-electric designs.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Nikola CEO Trevor Milton brought his dream of a hydrogen-electric truck one step closer to the marketplace on Tuesday, in a showcase that included looks at the Nikola Two destined for North America and Nikola Tre for Europe.
The event known as nothing less than Nikola World even included horsepower of a different kind in the form of his arrival on a wagon pulled by the Budweiser Clydesdales – a nod to Anheuser-Busch’s order of 800 of the Class 8 trucks.
“We are on track to meet our production timeline in 2022,” Milton said. And Nikola says more than 13,000 of the trucks have been ordered.
The company that began in his home’s basement has grown to more than 100 employees who joined him on stage. There will be 300 on staff by the end of the year, with projections of 2,000 personnel once a manufacturing facility and research and development center are up and running.
“People have no idea what you sacrifice when you put everything you have in it,” said an emotional Milton, who credited his parents for encouraging him to follow his dreams. “There are times we pledged our home.”
A fully fueled Nikola Two will store 3 megawatt-hours of energy in 160 lb. of hydrogen.
The results were around him on Tuesday night, though. “This is a real truck, a real fuel cell.”
Nikola has also opened the first hydrogen fueling station at its Phoenix headquarters, which promises to fuel the Nikola Two in less than 15 minutes. Toyota has struggled in establishing hydrogen-electric vehicles because it’s waiting for others to build the stations, he said. Nikola pledges to build up to 100 per year up to 2028 to support the trucks it produces.
“We believe hydrogen is an incredible fuel.”
But not all of the trucks are destined to run on the fuel cells. While Nikola is a strong proponent of hydrogen-electric vehicles, it’s also planning to offer battery-electric options for those running in urban applications or short hauls.
“The powertrain of hydrogen-electric and battery-electric vehicles are actually identical,” Milton said. “The only difference is how the motors are actually propelled.”
The Nikola Two itself will deliver up to 1,000 hp and 2,000 lb-ft of torque – accelerating at two to three times the rate of a diesel — drawing on the hydrogen fuel cells or 500, 750, or 1,000 kwh battery packs. The trucks themselves are to weigh 15,000 to 18,000 lb. depending on the spec’s, and that is similar to a diesel truck, he added during a press conference.
“They’re both incredible technologies that kind of fit in different areas,” he said. “We think about 80% of the sales will come from hydrogen, 20% will come from battery-electric. It doesn’t necessarily mean one will be better than the other. It’s just weight is so important in the trucking world that every pound is worth 50 cents [in potential revenue per load]. When batteries become more and more advanced with better weight combinations, that ratio will probably balance out.”
“We didn’t want to appear to be a biased company that was only about one technology,” Milton added. “We offer both so we’re not biased.”
Looking to the future, the products are also being designed to support autonomous driving hardware.
Before the first trucks hit the road, however, the company is even looking to broader markets. Its Nikola Tre is destined for Europe, featuring a range of 800 to 1,200 km depending on the loads, drawing on 60 kg of hydrogen on board.
“Europe has always been a leader in emissions,” Milton said, referring to several pledges to ban diesel-powered equipment. The company is also looking to partner with an established OEM to serve that market.
Milton clearly revels in presenting himself as an outsider. “None of my engineers could have worked for an existing truck manufacturer before,” he said, suggesting those who did tended to focus on incremental gains rather than large technological leaps. He referred to detractors who suggested that oil companies would kill the idea, or that it would be better to retrofit an existing diesel-powered vehicle. Others said it would cost too much money and doubted it would be produced.
But the company has reportedly invested US $1 billion into the drivetrain that can now be shared across different markets.
“If we have to go out and pioneer it to force these other people to do their damn job, I’m going to go and do it,” he said, referring to the value of creating energy from water and reusing it time and again.
While trucks are a key focus, they shared the stage with other electric vehicles including an autonomous all-terrain military vehicle dubbed the Nikola Reckless. “We believe all military vehicles will transform to battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cells in the future,” said Andrew Christian, vice-president of business development and defense for Nikola Powersports.
There was also a redesigned version of the NZT off-highway vehicle, and a prototype of a Nikola Water Adventure Vehicle (WAV) personal watercraft.
But those are meant to be a fraction of the overall market for Nikola technology. The real focus is the trucks to come.