Six months ago the Nikola Motor Company came out of nowhere and announced it was going to put the first electric-powered big rig on American roads. We’ve been skeptical, but Nikola just revealed a full-sized model that apparently works, and more importantly a plan to build and sell it at scale.
You can watch the hour-long unveiling and presentation from Nikola CEO Trevor Milton here, if you’re really curious, or scroll a little further down and we’ll run through the bullet points.
The Nikola One is a semi-truck sleeper cab, meaning it’s got a little apartment behind the driver’s seat. The Nikola Two will be a day cab version that’s a little shorter and cheaper, but running the same hyrdogen-charged electric motor set.
Like an EV automobile, the Nikola trucks have a big brick of batteries at the bottom producing 320 kWh of energy. This will feed an independent electric motor at each axle, allowing for advanced traction control and for the first time on a big-rig: independent suspension.
To keep that battery charged, the trucks will have a turbine engine burning hydrogen, hydrogen that Nikola announced it would produce and ship to new distribution centers—more than 300 of which it’s promising to set up around the United States and Canada.
The truck’s supposed to be faster, quieter and of course more efficient than a diesel equivalent. As to how much more efficient, Nikola CEO Trevor Milton broke it down like this in his presentation:
My head hurts a little looking at that, but it adds up along with my cursory research of energy density.
So the Nikola truck is supposed to be able to cover 1,200 miles without refilling its hydrogen supply, but we’ve been hearing that figure and the 1,000 horsepower, 2,000 lb-ft of torque claims since the first renders of this thing were unveiled back in the summer.
What impressed me with last night’s presentation, besides the physical presence of a full-sized prototype Milton promised is operational, was the confirmation of a large-scale sales, service, distribution and maintenance network through the major truck logistics company Ryder, an agreement to build the first 5,000 trucks with Fitzgerald Glider Kits and interest in adoption from the shipping company U.S. Xpress.
Fitzgerald has a large facility in Byrdstown, Tennessee which is presumably where the first Nikolas will come from. In this context “glider kits” are truck cabs without engines, not little airplanes.
Nikola answered two of the biggest questions looming over the company tonight: “who’s going to build these things” and “who’s going to sell them.” Endorsements from these well-established companies give Nikola a healthy dose of legitimacy it really needed.
As to “how will they be fueled,” Milton didn’t detail a specific partnership but he did state that the hydrogen would be liquefied then transferred to 364 filling stations around the U.S., Canada and parts of Mexico.
I guess that’s as opposed to setting up individual hydrogen refining stations at all these locations. The cost of this hydrogen will be built in to what you’re paying for the truck.
I think we can expect a live demonstration of the truck moving under its own power in the near future, which will answer another big question—does it actually work?—but the last piece of the puzzle that’s not crystal clear is the company’s financial situation.
Nikola’s website states that the company’s only accepting investments from “accredited investors,” but where funding is coming from hasn’t been as heavily advertised as some other EV startups we’ve seen like Faraday Future or LeEco.
Even that aside, the figure that’s got my eyebrows up now is the value Nikola has placed on pre-orders.
For over a month, Nikola has had a “fully-refundable $1,500 deposit to get one!” offer running. In fact this is still in place. This morning the company sent out a press release saying it had racked up “nearly $3 billion in the first 30 days of availability.” Tonight, Milton said the company was around “$4 billion” in pre-order money.
Since you’d need over 2.5 million pre-orders at $1,500 a piece to get near $4 billion, I’m guessing that means the company is counting the entire value of the truck as good debt in that figure.
As to how much the truck actually costs I’m still a little vague. Lease rates of “$5,000 to $7,000 per month” keep popping up on the site, but the actual value or list price per vehicle remains to be seen.
But all that said, I will admit I am more optimistic about Nikola’s viability after having watched this presentation than I was this morning. I think we’ll all be interested to see what happens with this company next.