When last we heard about Nikola Motors, it was threatening to build a Class 8 truck intended for towing semi-trailers long distances mostly on electric power. The truck would have 6 individual wheel motors making a total of 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 lb-ft of torque. It would have an onboard range extender engine in the form of a natural gas powered turbine and a range of 1,200 miles.
So far, so good. Heavy trucks spew a lot of nasty stuff out of their chrome plated exhaust stacks. Nitrous oxides, for one, which are linked to asthma and shortened life spans. Particulates, for another, also bad for lungs and other living tissue. And of course there’s still good old carbon dioxide in great abundance. Transforming the fleet that hauls America’s freight has long been an important concern for the trucking industry.
So what has Nikola Motors been up to in the interim? This week, it held a a gala unveiling party for its first ever prototype. The futuristic tractor dubbed Nikola One is loaded with goodies to gladden the heart of any trucker — dual full size beds, a real refrigerator/freezer, a 40″ curved screen TV, wifi, and 4G connectivity. Up front in the “office,” an array of sensors offer the driver a 360º view around the cab and attached trailer so there are no blind spots where ordinary vehicles can hide.
At the reveal, the company said it has struck a deal with Ryder Systems to be its exclusive distribution and service provider. One of the largest trucking companies in North America, Ryder has 800 locations. “We are extremely excited to finally show off the Nikola One to the public for the first time,” said Nikola’s founder and CEO Trevor Milton. “There are many out there that wondered if we would deliver, but today we proudly show off the most advanced semi-truck ever built. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have one of the best brands in America, Ryder, as our trusted partner providing nationwide sales, service and warranty for Nikola Motor Company.”
Wow. An actual truck for the press to ogle. A deal with Ryder to distribute and service its trucks. What could be better than that? Nikola says its trucks will lease for between $5,000 and $7,000 a month, including free scheduled maintenance and fuel. Now it’s time for the other shoe to drop. Since we last heard from Nikola, the company has dumped the gas powered turbine idea and substituted a hydrogen powered fuel cell and rebranded its trucks as “zero emissions” vehicles.
Is that true? Yes it is, if you only consider what happens on board the truck itself. Most of us know the only byproducts of a hydrogen fuel cell are water vapor and heat. But where does the hydrogen come from and where are the refueling stations the trucks will need to complete their routes? Trevor Milton told the press this week that his company would begin building a hydrogen refueling structure made up of 350 hydrogen stations beginning in 2018.
A typical hydrogen station cost $2 million to $3 million to build. Who is putting up the money to build the system? Milton is silent on that point. Here’s another thing to think about. Most commercial hydrogen today is made from natural gas. Instead of spending billions building refueling stations, why not just stick with the natural gas powered turbines originally proposed? Toyota and Honda have spent years and billions of dollars figuring out how to build fuel cells. Where is Nikola suddenly getting high power fuel cells from? Will they spring full grown from the brow of Trevor Milton at night while he sleeps?
Hydrogen made from natural gas can hardly be called a “zero emissions” fuel. America gets most of its natural gas from fracking, a process that takes an enormous amount of energy and leaves the land scarred and the local groundwater highly polluted. It also leads to local earthquakes and tap water that can catch on fire. This is what we are supposed to welcome with cheers and open arms?
Milton says he is looking at a number of locations to build the Nikola One. He expects to manufacture 50,000 of them a year by 2020. “Nikola will build a world-class advanced manufacturing facility which will create thousands of new jobs,” he says. He claims to have received billions of dollars in refundable $1,500 deposits.
If it wasn’t for the tie-in with Ryder, I would say the Nikola One is vaporware. It helps to have a major corporation on board to give the whole project a certain respectability but Ryder is not putting up and money or resources that anyone is aware of. The Nikola One is great design and it looks terrific rendered full size. But will it ever see production? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
Source: Electric Cars Report. Photo credit: Nikola Motors