Nikola Motors Thinks Big — And Small


Say hello to Nikola Motors, the newest new electric vehicle start-up company that is going to change the world of transportation. But it is not going to compete with Tesla, despite the fact that the company name is an obvious riff on Tesla Motors. Instead it is aiming both higher and lower on the transportation food chain than Tesla Motors is.

Nikola Motors Nikola One

First up is the Nikola One. It is a hybrid tractor for hauling semi-trailers. With the state of current battery technology, it is impossible to build an all electric tractor that can tow 80,000 lbs of cargo long distances. Nikola Motors proposes to solve that problem by using a natural gas powered onboard turbine to charge the batteries while driving.

The specs for the Nikola One are impressive. 2,000 horsepower. 3,700 lb-ft of torque. A 325 kWh battery. 6 wheel drive with torque vectoring. 1,200 mile range. Wow! The company says it will cut fuel cost in half, making the Nikola One the vehicle of choice for freight operators. No idling while stopped. None of the NOx and particulate emissions associated with diesel engines. Not only that, it weighs less than a convention tractor. What’s not to like?

List price  for the Nikola One is $375,000, which is competitive with conventional big rigs, especially since the company says its truck can save fleet operators up to $30,000 a month in operating costs.

Nikola Motors Nikola Zero

At the other end of the spectrum is the Nikola Zero. It is an ATV with a 50 kWh battery and 14.5″ of ground clearance. 0-60 takes 3.0 seconds, the company says and it will have up to 150 miles of range. Horsepower is listed as 520. At $45,000, it will be well above the budget of the casual enthusiast.

Nikola Motors “was quietly formed by founder and CEO Trevor Milton years ago to design and manufacture electric vehicles, energy storage systems, and electric vehicle drivetrain components,” according to a company press release. “By working together with some of the top engineering firms in America, we were able to design vehicles that have previously been thought impossible to design,” says Milton, who adds, “This is just the beginning of what’s ahead for America, our company and the electric vehicle market.”

The press release calls Trevor Milton “visionary.” Maybe. In point of fact, the Nikola One and Nikola Zero are nothing more than concept drawings at the moment. A working prototype of the tractor is promised later this year. There is no information on where the vehicles will be made  or how the company expects to get the money to build them.

Is Nikola Motors vaporware? We don’t know. The ideas seem reasonable enough, especially for the hybrid electric tractor. Its concept is very similar to what WrightSpeed in San Francisco is doing — hybrid electric heavy duty trucks that feature a gas turbine to keep the batteries charged during operation. But Ian Wright has been building his company piece by piece since he walked away from his role as one of the original founders of Tesla Motors. There is substance and real manufacturing experience that back up his ideas.

Nikoka Motors has none of that. The need for new ways to move cargo in an environmentally friendly way is real enough. Will Nikola Motors fill that need? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.

Source: AutoBlog

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • It’s Elon…trying to light a virtual fire under Peterbilt, Mack, International… 😀

    • Steve Hanley

      That is not entirely far fetched!

  • AaronD12

    An ATV with a 50kWh battery should have FAR more range than just 150 miles.

    • Steve Hanley

      Yeah, I thought that myself. Maybe those big knobbly off road tires have a lot of friction?

    • Justin Case Jones

      I’d bet it’s the intended environment the ATV will be in (steep hills, mud, etc.), and the type of driving you’ll be doing (either foot hard down or not at all) that reduce the range. I’d imagine on a smooth flat surface at 20% throttle all the time would be vastly different.

      • AaronD12

        Maybe so. Then again, electric vehicles are efficient at slow speeds. You probably won’t be driving with on/off throttle with “520HP” under your right foot either. 😉

  • J_JamesM

    Semi trucks are an incredibly obvious target for efficiency gains. I’m kind of amazed that consumer commuter cars are seeing more movement than large trucks at this time, but hey, trucks are “boring.”

  • super390

    They must have found a really cheap gas turbine to undercut the costs of the traditional diesel rig. It doesn’t have to be very powerful compared to the motors. But that means it’s running all the time.

    • Steve Hanley

      i fear I will be writing a story about this later this year saying the whole thing was an illusion. Which is a shame. Finding a cleaner way to move the millions of tons of freight that keep the economy going is really a critical need.

      I actually agree with Ian Wright that cleaning up diesel pollution from heavy trucks is a higher priority than getting people into electric cars.

  • Mike Dill

    “With the state of current battery technology, it is impossible to build an all electric tractor that can tow 80,000 lbs of cargo long distances.”
    Not Impossible. It is just that the infrastructure is not there yet. Long distance trucks should require a battery pack of about 400 to 500 kWh. For the miles driven this make sense currently when diesel is $3.50/gallon, and will make more sense as battery prices continue to plummet.
    The current problem is the infrastructure, as they will need about a few thousand chargers that can handle 4x the charging rate of the supercharger.