SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Zero-emission semi-trucks that don’t operate on diesel, but use hydrogen fuel cells instead, have been unveiled at Nikola Motor Company's “Nikola World 2019” event in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“It’s the first production truck that I know of around the world that is a fully … true fuel cell truck from the ground up,” said Trevor Milton, Nikola founder and CEO.
The trucks combine hydrogen stored in onboard tanks with atmospheric oxygen to generate electricity for their motors, a process that emits no harmful emissions.
“I grew up driving diesel trucks,” Milton said. “I think there's a place for them. But I also got more and more mad every time I’d go out running and it's like you go up over sitting on a mountain, you look down, you see the gray soot everywhere that you're breathing as you run. … I want to scream. … That's just what needs to change. And no one will do it. Finally, I just did it.”
Milton brought the company to Arizona, where it is now headquartered in Phoenix. It plans to break ground in nearby Coolidge in 2020 on over 400 acres and a million-square-foot manufacturing facility.
The plan is to have the company begin full production by 2022, building up to 35,000 trucks per year.
“The No. 1 thing is around the emissions, getting rid of the emissions across the board,” Milton said. “I didn't want regulation to come in and say people are only changing because government’s forcing you to. I want my generation to actually be ahead of the government, to say, 'You know what, we can innovate faster than the government forces us.'“
The Nikola Two is a long-haul tractor with 1,000 hp, 2,000 lb-ft of torque and a range of 750 miles, while the cab-over Tre is aimed at the European market. Full battery-powered versions are in the works for urban applications covering shorter routes. Both models feature video camera rearview mirrors and digital displays equipped with programs to track mileage, sleep and expenses.
“A truck is not just a way of transportation…it’s a business for people,” Nikola designer Erik Tuft said.
Nikola claims to have 13,000 orders for the trucks, including 800 from Anheuser-Busch as part of its sustainability strategy. Exact pricing hasn't been publically released, but it is offering million-mile leases that include hydrogen supplied through a network of stations it is building across the country.
“We recently opened our first hydrogen station at our Phoenix headquarters. We are leading the way and working with industry and other OEMs to develop hydrogen standards to enable fueling in less than 15 minutes. The goal is safety and interoperability, so that anyone can fuel at our station. This is a big deal,” Jesse Schneider, Nikola executive vice president of hydrogen, said.
As far as competing with Tesla's upcoming battery-powered semi is concerned, Milton thinks there's enough customers to go around.
“Tesla’s going to, at some point, come out with their truck for the consumers and I think they’ll do pretty well,” Milton said. “What we’ve seen in the market is about 80-percent of them need hydrogen, hydrogen electric. And 20-percent of them will use battery electric. They’re going to take up part of that battery electric market, no doubt."
"One good thing is that when a customer sits down with us, we can tell them, ‘Look, we’re not biased; we’ll offer you either one. We don’t care.’ And we’re the only company that can be honest with you because we don’t have an agenda.”
Nikola plans to add 2,000 Arizona jobs by 2022.