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Spotlight shines on hydrogen-electric trucks at Nikola World

Glitzy event highlights electric truck manufacturing start-up’s progress


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Nikola Motor Company founder Trevor Milton rode into the Westworld event center here April 16 atop a wagon pulled by the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. It was a shout-out to Anheuser-Busch, which has placed orders for more Nikola Class 8 hydrogen-electric semis than any other company, and a fitting way to kick off the two-day Nikola World demonstrations.

More than 2,000 people attended the event, representing more than 49 countries.

“With many more we couldn’t even allow in due to capacity,” Milton beamed.

The Nikola One is demonstrated on the track.

The company has come a long way in a short time. Milton founded the company in 2014 with the vision to bring to market electric-powered Class 8 trucks. It was started in his basement and has blossomed to include divisions for powersports and military vehicles, as well as a European Class 8 truck dubbed Tre. All were on display at Nikola World. More than 130 people now work for the company, which will exceed 300 by the end of this year. The company’s flagship product is the Nikola One truck, which is set to enter production in 2022. A Nikola Two day cab is also in the works.

More than $1 billion has been invested into the Nikola drivertrain, and investors have lined up to provide funding. That has benefited Nikola’s growth, Milton acknowledged, while rival Tesla has been under tremendous pressure to deliver its own Class 8 electric semi on schedule.

“I have a lot of sympathy for what they’re going through,” Milton said. “The world is putting a lot of pressure on them to succeed in every category in the world. I feel for those guys a lot and it’s one reason I don’t want to go public – I want to go slow without the pressure of the financial world bearing down on me.”

But no one can accuse Nikola of moving slow. Before it even launches its truck in North America in 2022, the company designed and showed a European cabover version of its truck, which will launch just one year after its debut here in North America. And it also has been working to develop the hydrogen fueling infrastructure, which will be rolled out at the same time it ramps up truck production. The initial fueling site is operational in Arizona, 10 more eight-ton per day sites will open up next, with some 700 sites expected to be operational in the U.S. and Canada when Nikola trucks start hitting the highway.

It’s an ambitious plan, but one that Nikola executives – and especially its founder – seemed unfazed by.

“This is our time to shine,” Milton said.

Unlike other truck makers, including Tesla, which are working on fully-electric Class 8 trucks, Nikola is the only one to have announced a hydrogen-electric variant. The hydrogen fuel tank acts as a range extender of sorts, providing a range of up to 700 miles. It will also offer a pure electric version for shorter distance regional haul applications. Milton expects about 80% of orders to be for the hydrogen-electric Nikola.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” he said.

And if that’s not ambitious enough, the company wants to derive its hydrogen from renewable solar and wind power sources. It is also looking to completely change how trucks are financed, and will offer a bundled lease that includes seven years worth of fuel and tires, in addition to the truck itself and all maintenance, which will be provided by Ryder. All this for an anticipated 95 cents a mile U.S., according to chief financial officer Kim Brady.

Nikola founder Trevor Milton (far right) discusses truck tech at Nikola World.

“How great would it be for your management team and chief financial officer, to be able to say, ‘I can predict my costs for the next seven years’?” asked Brady.

Nikola president Mark Russell said the company will also sell trucks outright, if that’s the customer’s preference, and will entertain other combinations thereof. But customers will buy the hydrogen fuel from Nikola, which believes it has the most cost-effective, on-site production capabilities available. Every fueling station will produce its hydrogen on-site so that transportation isn’t required, making it even cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.

Many fleets were in attendance at Nikola World, including Bison Transport and Loblaw from Canada. More than 14,000 trucks have been ordered already, which will take more than three years to build. Russell said the company has stopped taking orders for now, so it doesn’t extend its backlog further. Anheuser-Busch placed orders for 800 Nikola trucks and vice-president of sustainability Ingrid De Ryck is excited to take delivery.

“These will play a key role in our plans to convert our entire longhaul dedicated fleet to renewable-powered trucks by 2025,” she said.

Milton shrugged off any concerns about the truck’s ability to perform in cold climates, and some of its 700 hydrogen stations will be built in Canada. When Truck News asked him about this, he mentioned Nikola is building the world’s most advanced fuel cell lab, where testing will occur in temperatures ranging from -30 F to well over 120 F. Anheuser-Busch has volunteered to work with Nikola to road-test its first batch of trucks and will be a close partner as the truck gets real world-validated.

Check back on Trucknews.com for more details about the truck itself.


James Menzies

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.
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