After months of hype and speculation Diesel’s US correspondent saw the wraps off a zero emissions truck. For months, Nikola Motor Co. had been showing artist renderings of its revolutionary cabover at Nikola.com. Finally, company founder and CEO Trevor Milton pulled the wraps off the real thing – an all independent-suspension electric-drive cabover using current generated by a hydrogen fuel cell. And the only emissions from this high-performance prime mover is a little water.
Water is the by-product of the power generated by combining the hydrogen with oxygen in the air in the proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell that is directly charging the lithium-ion storage batteries. The all-independent suspension truck is also revolutionary.
There is a burgeoning, though patchy, hydrogen fuel infrastructure in the United States and Milton has a bigger vision for trucking. Hydrogen will be dispensed at 364 Nikola fuel station/truck stops, which are to be built concurrently with the start-up of production of the Nikola One prime mover.
This will give Nikola customers an assured and stable price for the fuel, said Milton, of his visionary plan. The plan also calls for sales of hydrogen fuel to owners of the new Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, and Hyundai ix35, for example, which will help make these cars viable for longer distances and cross-country use while improving the business model for Nikola. For them, the hydrogen will equate to about $0.54 per litre (diesel equivalent), reckons Milton.
For Nikola One truckers, the cost will be zero.
One of the highly attractive parts of Milton’s Nikola vision is that customers will pay nothing at the pump. The plan is to offer the trucks on a six-year lease that folds in all maintenance, service, and consumables like tyres, windshield wipers, and even fuel for 1 million miles. The cost will be finalised in the two-plus years before the truck reaches the market, but Milton says he is shooting for a lease of $5,000 to $7,000 a month.
According to guests – hundreds of owner-operators and small fleets – at the launch, this could work well. Many have already demonstrated their faith in the project by ponying up a US$1,500 deposit for early production slots. At the reveal, one fleet representative said the economics will prove a winning investment especially for teams because they can get more revenue miles per month.
One of the guests was Max Fuller, chairman and founder of one of the nation’s largest trucking fleets. He has pre-ordered so many that his company name – U.S. Xpress – was emblazoned on the Nicola One at the reveal. Fuller says he’s particularly excited by the truck in its first iteration, though things will have to change some to fit in with operations. He says he’s been to the Nikola headquarters more than a few times to offer his opinions on what real-world conditions will dictate.