That is, oddly enough, not an awesome-look mashup of a bus and a TIE fighter pilot from Star Wars. It’s the Nikola Tre, and it’s a hydrogen-powered semi with up to 1,000 horsepower, up to 2,000 pound-feet of torque, and a range of over 700 miles, meant to take on the Tesla Semi and every other truck.
We’re not just drawing the Tesla connection ourselves here because it “makes for a good headline” or whatever. Both Nikola, the hydrogen truck company, and Tesla, the electric car and soon-to-be electric truck company, both derive their names from Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla. Both are trying to make big rigs powered by electric motors. Both say they’ve got contracts with Anheuser-Busch for literally some beer trucks.
And Nikola has sued Tesla for a staggering $2 billion for allegedly lifting the design of its own semi. Though the lawsuit appears to be over whatever Nikola had in mind for the American market, which was teased in illustrations from Nikola that look like this:
And not the Tre, which Nikola debuted today looking like this:
It looks like there will be a number of options available to fans of Euro Truck Simulator, with ranges given of 500 to 1,000 horsepower, “up to” 2,000 pound-feet of torque, and 500 to 1,200 kilometers (or 310 miles to 745 miles) of range on Nikola’s website.
But here’s where the whole thing gets extremely annoying, if you’re the sort of person that is a European trucking company fleet buyer instructed by your boss to look into buying some of those fancy new-fangled zero emissions vehicles and when you ask which one your boss is like “I don’t give a shit just get me ANYTHING that doesn’t require dino juice” and you’re like “well that is NOT a lot to go on” but you don’t care because you’re European and you work maybe 12 hours a week and then everyone goes on vacation. The crucial difference between the Nikola and the Tesla is that one stores its electricity (I know, this is vastly oversimplified, but bear with me here) in the form of liquid hydrogen, and the other stores its electricity in batteries.
So, for right now, Nikola is advertising a re-fill time of about 20 minutes, which is very roughly comparable with diesel trucks, depending on a few factors. And while a Tesla takes a long time to charge up now, Tesla says it’s working on “megachargers” that should be, someday, ideally, able to charge up a Tesla Semi pretty quickly, too.
All of which is to say that this is, for now, a very silly argument to make. A lot of this is “someday” or “they’re working on it.” Neither the Nikola Tre nor the Tesla Semi are in full-rate production. We don’t know if the Nikola Tre will ever see production, though its business plan sounds okay, and we don’t know if the Tesla Semi will ever see production, either. And even if both of these things go into production, there isn’t a vast network of hydrogen filling stations or Tesla “megachargers” anywhere in the world that would support them. Though Nikola says that it’s working on creating the largest “hydrogren” [sic] network in the world.
And it might not matter if the Nikola can do 745 miles on a tank, if regular diesel trucks can do over 1,000 miles on a tank.
Of course, Nikola is claiming other advantages over diesel trucks, such as quick acceleration, better fuel economy, better braking, a lower center of gravity, and autonomous capability.
If it ever goes into production, that is.