Nikola Provides Updates On Electric, Hydrogen Semi Truck

5 months ago by Mark Kane 49

Nikola One

A lot is apparently going on at the Nikola Motor Company, which is developing a long-range hydrogen fuel cell truck with a 320 kWh battery.  The long haul truck is scheduled for production in 2020.

According to the latest news, the Nikola One is currently undergoing design tweaks to enable it to be more autonomous (if that is a thing), lightweight and accessible.

Weight is to be 2,000 lbs lower than in a comparable diesel truck, while at the same time the truck is to be wider and roomy than the original prototype, with two doors (the prototype was single-door).

The goal is to have self-driving capability for driver-less operation, with a backup manual system.

The fleets that placed pre-orders are to be named in the next two months. Nikola says it has received reservations for 8,000 trucks, but apparently have “verbal commitments for more than 25,000 trucks“.

Nikola One

The plan for the near future is to complete bench testing, and do “live stress testing by mid-2018” with three years of tests in extreme hot and cold.

Founder Trevor Milton said:

“And by the end of next year, Nikola One will be made available to fleets to be tested on runs between cities, up steep inclines, through rotten weather and in other challenging conditions,”

Nikola One

Pricing of the trucks has yet to be announced, but that will happen in early 2018 (price-per-mile system is also considered with prices 20-30% lower than diesel trucks).

“There are lots of variables with pricing. But we want the operator to get their return on investment on Day One by only getting billed per mile.”

Beside trucks, Nikola is also developing proprietary network of hydrogen fueling stations (376 in U.S. – if you can believe that, we are more than a little skeptical) with output for 12,500 kg of hydrogen per day. First eight are to be announced this summer.

Additional notes on what is happening with the company:

  • added roughly a dozen new employees in first half of year
  • expect to have 100 employees in the next four months (three times more)
  • “much of the development work on the truck… is being outsourced to keep the core Nikola team nimble”
  • $110-million funding round is expected to close soon, shooting valuation to more than $1 billion
  • Ryder System Inc. (fleet management firm with 800 service locations in U.S. and Mexico) will take over ordering process as well as distribution and maintenance of the Nikola One. Thompson Machinery (Caterpillar dealer in Tennessee and Mississippi) also signed for the job.
  • the first 5,000 trucks to be produced by Fitzgerald Gliders family in Tennessee, starting from October 2020
  • full production in 2021
  • within two month company will announce “a new, 1.5-million-square-foot robotic manufacturing facility

Milton also referred to Tesla semi-truck that will be unveiled in September, and quotes some numbers that (as far as we know) are currently unknown for the Tesla:

““This is the big one people are asking a lot of questions about. Our range is 800-plus miles, while theirs is 200 to 300. And ours requires a 15-minute fill-up time, while theirs needs a four- to eight-hour charge or a battery swap every 200 to 300 miles.””

“Nikola’s truck will be able to handle travel in ports, long-haul environments and inner cities, while Tesla’s is designed only to handle port transit, Milton said.”

source: Trucks

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49 responses to "Nikola Provides Updates On Electric, Hydrogen Semi Truck"

  1. Gouldness says:

    If i had a billion dollar company riding on comparatively-inefficient hydrogen and non-existing (H)infrastructure I would probably blow smoke (no pun intended) about my competition too.

    I foresee a few players in this market, but the prize goes to the first. Let’s see how Tesla plays this one, and I bet it won’t be just “port transit”.

  2. Vexar says:

    I’m glad they are making improvements on their prototype. Tesla has announced very, very little about their upcoming long-haul class 8 freight truck. I sincerely doubt mud-slinging at a spectre serves any purpose other than promoting the spirit of your competitor.

  3. floydboy says:

    If they turn out to be wrong about Tesla’s truck, will they eat a hat or something?
    Why don’t they get a few cross country runs under their belt before they start talking smack.

  4. Roy_H says:

    320 kWhr battery! I am perplexed, why have a huge battery and a Fuel Cell? I would think that the battery would only have to be big enough to capture re-gen and assist with acceleration. Maybe it is required for those long up-hill climbs in the mountains. Anyhow, this suggests to me that the FC is just enough power for near level highway driving. I guess the battery also gives a back-up option if the H2 station is out of service. Another point is that electricity is much cheaper than H2, so the owner will probably choose to use battery power as much as possible and the FC as a back-up generator.

    1. MikeM says:

      I suspect it’s a reflection of the long distances between H2 refueling stations.
      (Or maybe the fact that there aren’t any – yet)

      In any event, 320 kWh isn’t really all that large for a heavy long haul truck.
      200 miles maybe. (Just guessing).

      1. SJC says:

        The Nikola One people can make their own fueling stations, Tesla did super chargers.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Yes, Tesla builds Superchargers, at ~$50,000 for two stalls.

          It’s a lead-pipe cinch that Nikola will not, repeat not, be building out 376 stations at several million dollars apiece. Even a very low-volume hydrogen fueling station for “fool cell” cars costs $2-3 million. A fueling station with higher capacity, capable of quickly fueling a heavy truck… would cost somewhat more, to say the least!

          1. SJC says:

            As the wise man said, we will see. Truck stops are offering CNG, who knows.

    2. Mikael says:

      There is no plug on the vehicle for the owner to charge it with electricity.

      It is all hydrogen.

      1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

        They are planning on DC charging plug for overnight power at rest stops, or so they say on their website. But it is not for long distance driving energy needs that are much higher.

    3. Chris O says:

      320kWh may sound as hug but will likely afford less than 200 miles of range. Hence the need for a range extender and the most impractical choice for that would be a hydrogen fuel cell system.

      1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

        Most practical choice now is diesel engine and everybody uses them. Why do you bother reading about something electric in such case?

        1. Chris O says:

          ZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Chris O said:

        “…a range extender and the most impractical choice for that would be a hydrogen fuel cell system.”

        Let me fix that for you:

        The least practical choice for a range extender would be a hydrogen fool cell system.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Oops! 😳 That is what you said!

          Nevermind…

    4. floydboy says:

      Well, EV and FC covers the available ‘clean transport’ handouts.

  5. Kdawg says:

    Should have made it run on CNG. There’s already a CNG infrastructure.

    1. Damocles Axe says:

      Solid Oxide fuel cells (like Bloom Energy uses) can run directly from natural gas. THEN it would be a practical truck design!

      Solid Oxide fuel cells take time to come up to temperature before they start working, so that is part of why the truck needs large batteries.

      1. Bjorn says:

        Is that what they will use? AFAIK, PEM Is the FC tech suitable for automotive application for now. Toyota is reportedly testing SOFC, but it is rather complex for this application. As a consequence, you have to resort to Otto cycle (“diesel”) engines or turbines for electricity generation. Happy to hear about it if anyone knows of viable/promising methane-fuelled automotive SOFC projects.

        On natural gas, which would have to be in the LIQUID state to support long range, I don’t really see that as a viable solution to climate change. It is a fossil fuel, and climate gains from combustion (typically 20%) are quickly offset by dispersed emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Biogas (“renewable gas” in the US) is different of course, but needs to be scaled up significantly.

    2. Mike I. says:

      People make CNG fuel cells. The only problem is that they run at high temperatures, making integration more difficult. It should be possible to offer that as an option.

    3. zzzzzzzzzz says:

      There are already CNG and LNG trucks. They work fine for some, but you can always try to make something better despite naysayers.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        I’d love to see development of fuel cell vehicles powered by a practical fuel like CNG or LPG.

        It’s the attempt to use compressed hydrogen fuel that turns FCEVs into horrendously inefficient, wasteful, and (on a well-to-wheel basis) highly polluting “fool cell” vehicles.

        1. Bjorn says:

          Not less efficient than diesel engines anyway

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            The “hydrogen economy” is much, much less energy-efficient on a well-to-wheel basis than using diesel fuel. Merely slightly less polluting.

            https://web.archive.org/web/20150419031629/http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/hydrogen-economy-fuel+cell/480

  6. Mikael says:

    Why doesn’t it come with a plug? It is such a crazy omission that it is ridiculous.

    Starting with 320 kWh freshly charged from the grid would make a huge economical difference.

    1. Bjorn says:

      You sure? It seems that it will… Would make a lot of sense if they are going to charge by the mile

  7. Mikael says:

    By the way…. is there any report on what they will make their hydrogen from?

    Is it an all fossil vehicle?

    1. TimE says:

      From what I’ve read, they plan on building fields of solar and using the solar energy to produce Hydrogen, then delivering that Hydrogen to the fueling locations.

      Supposedly they claim to be providing all of the fuel (Hydrogen) included for the life of the truck – which could certainly provide a better ROI to trucking companies.

      The lack of a plug certainly is a big oversight – solo drivers can only drive up to 11 hours a day and are required to take a 30 minute break every 8 hours. The 30 minute break alone could deliver at least 60 KWh from a charger comparable to the Tesla Superchargers (likely much more), and overnight charging on even a 50 KW Chademo or CCS charger could easily provide a full charge – providing better efficiency than Hydrogen. However – that charging station would have to remain in use/blocked by that tractor for at least 10 hours or possibly more – if a driver has to deal with fueling during a break, they must log that time as on-duty which restarts their required 10 hour break (daily), or 34 hour HOS restart. If they had to move their truck after filling up using electricity, that would have to be recorded as Driving time which could get the driver an HOS violation if they were past their 14 hours on duty period from when they started their day.

      HOS rules would certainly have to come into consideration with any electric truck charging infrastructure.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        TimE said:

        “Supposedly they claim to be providing all of the fuel (Hydrogen) included for the life of the truck – which could certainly provide a better ROI to trucking companies.”

        Good luck to Nikola in making that EROI work for them. Hint: Perpetual motion doesn’t work in economics any more than it works in science.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        TimE said:

        “If they had to move their truck after filling up using electricity, that would have to be recorded as Driving time which could get the driver an HOS violation if they were past their 14 hours on duty period from when they started their day.”

        That seems like a rather trivial problem. An attendant/valet at the truck stop could move the truck after charging if necessary. If the alternative-energy truck stop is run by fleet operators, which will almost certainly be the case when long distance BEV (or fuel cell) trucking first becomes a reality, then there shouldn’t be any contractual problem with the truck stop attendant moving the truck.

  8. Chris O says:

    Making up numbers like that about Tesla’s upcoming truck design may look pretty egregious but I guess it’s just a few more lies in the ocean of nonsense that is this project.

    Utter mess. I do like the exterior design of that truck though.

    1. theflew says:

      At least they have a truck to show with specs. If Tesla shows a physical truck this fall they’ll leave important specs out so people will make up lofty capabilities that tweet happy Musk will wink at to add fuel to the fire.

      1. floydboy says:

        What, they’re going to invite people to show a giant NOTHING and of course, mention NOTHING about the NOTHING people gathered to see?!!

        Now you’re just being silly!

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “Making up numbers like that about Tesla’s upcoming truck design may look pretty egregious but I guess it’s just a few more lies in the ocean of nonsense that is this project.”

      Actually, the idea that Tesla’s BEV truck will be limited to 200-300 miles, and will use either fast-charging or battery swapping to extend range, was exactly the consensus reached a few months back by those I consider the more knowledgeable of the Usual Suspects discussing the situation here on InsideEVs.

      More recently, Elon has tweeted some other comments which call into question the premises that consensus was based on. But it’s not a “lie”; at worst it’s outdated speculation. For all we know, it may still turn out to be true. I do agree, though, that it’s not very honest to state that speculation as if it’s fact.

      But to me, Nikola trash-talking Tesla in its press release just underscores the fact that Tesla is the leader in this tech revolution.

      The irony, of course, is Nikola suggestion that Tesla’s BEV semi truck won’t be practical. In reality, it’s almost guaranteed that whatever Tesla winds up showing will be far more practical, even if it has a limited market, than the fool cell vehicle Nikola is touting!

      1. Chris O says:

        It’s actually a lie to present speculation as facts and I think it is that exact type of lie that supports much of the hydrogen hoax.

      2. georgeS says:

        “Actually, the idea that Tesla’s BEV truck will be limited to 200-300 miles, and will use either fast-charging or battery swapping to extend range, was exactly the consensus reached a few months back by those I consider the more knowledgeable of the Usual Suspects discussing the situation here on InsideEVs.”

        -PMPU

        He will offer different size battery packs. Pick the range you want. In town hauler or cross country model. Maybe he will make it so u can specify how many motors you want Hand in hand with the battery size you pick.

        I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Elon will put in a new supercharger network just for semi’s and offer free fuel.

        This Nikola semi is his only competition and he needs to match Nikola’s free fuel offer.

        This project is way more interesting than the 3. It is the most formidable of engineering challenges.

        I can’t wait for him to challenge the big boys. Then work his way down to Ford and GM’s pick ups. I want to see the look on their faces.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          “He will offer different size battery packs. Pick the range you want. In town hauler or cross country model. Maybe he will make it so u can specify how many motors you want Hand in hand with the battery size you pick.”

          But nobody trying to make a profit is going to pick a long-range BEV semi. The battery packs are much too expensive and don’t last long enough to recoup the cost (by cost savings in using electricity vs. diesel), before you’d have to install a replacement pack.

          There is a possible, if thin, case to be made for short- to medium-distance BEV trucking. Thin, as Smith Electric hasn’t been able to make a go of selling its BEV trucks. Tesla might well do better using cheaper parts from the Model 3.

          But even Tesla can’t change the economics of the long-term costs of long-distance trucking. Not until batteries come down in price somewhat more than they have.

          I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out here; my napkin math makes it pretty clear those huge battery packs would be much too expensive. And the average commercial semi truck runs about three times the distance of an automobile in a year, so for long-distance freight hauling the packs would have to be replaced multiple times over the expected lifetime of the truck.

          1. georgeS says:

            Yes PMPU the cycle life seems to be an issue on the long haul application of the Tesla semi.

            Looks like they use NMC in the power walls to get better life but even then they are only around 1200 cycles:
            https://electrek.co/2017/05/04/tesla-battery-researcher-chemistry-lifcycle/

            ….and at one cycle per day that only gives 3.28 year life for the semi truck battery and Going to a lower DOD won’t work on the 600 mile version w/1200 kwh pack as the pack is so expensive.

            but on the other hand we have Musk saying:
            “It is a heavy duty, long range, semi-truck. So it has the highest weight capability and with long range.”

            https://electrek.co/2017/05/25/tesla-semi-electric-truck/

            So I don’t know how he will solve that problem.

          2. georgeS says:

            “”But nobody trying to make a profit is going to pick a long-range BEV semi.”

            -PMPU

            Free fuel might be enough of an incentive.

            plus we have this Musk comment:

            “but we have shown it to people who buy heavy duty trucking and they all love it. They just want to know how many can they buy and how soon,” Musk said during Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting”

            http://www.businessinsider.com/tesla-semi-truck-companies-helping-design-2017-6

  9. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    With these details, Nikola looks a lot more like an outright scam and a lot less like a company run by someone who unfortunately let his enthusiasm for “green tech” override his business sense.

    Lower cost per mile than diesel, using compressed hydrogen fuel? Not unless they repealed the laws of physics! The reverse, unquestionably: It will be a considerably higher cost per mile than using diesel fuel.

    Nikola will build 376 truck stops for refueling “fool cell” semi trucks? That’s a very, very unrealistic plan. Why should we believe that a startup like Nikola would be able to fund hundreds of H2 fueling stations capable of filling up a semi truck in a reasonable time, when the California Fuel Cell Partnership, even when funded by such energy giants as Shell Hydrogen and Chevron as well as taxpayer dollars, haven’t been able to build more than 3 dozen or so H2 fueling stations for cars, over the space of several years?

    There are plenty of green tech startups out there that have a shot at success, even if it’s a slim one. This ain’t one of ’em. Potential investors should run, not walk, away from Nikola. It looks to have about as much credibility as Faraday Failure Future.

    1. floydboy says:

      THIS! I don’t think even the oil companies, the primary beneficiaries of FC infrastructure, would build that many stations. So where is Nikola going to even think about getting that kind of cash?

    2. sveno says:

      I techically have nothing against FCVs but they don’t make much financial sense. This Nikola is 90% wishful thinking.

    3. Bjorn says:

      If there was demand, they would build them. Nikola would in their plan be able to secure demand, so there is some logic to it. Of course, the question is whether they can get the compete cost per mile traveled lower than diesel. From a fuel only perspective, hydrogen can potentially be cheaper than diesel. Questions like vehicle and maintenance costs remain unclear.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        “From a fuel only perspective, hydrogen can potentially be cheaper than diesel.”

        This is factually incorrect. The Second Law of Thermodynamics prohibits that from happening in this universe. There are too many energy-wasting steps between generating H2 and actually getting it into the fool cell vehicle, whether car or semi truck.

        Not just my opinion, it’s fact and basic science.

        The short version:
        https://phys.org/news/2006-12-hydrogen-economy-doesnt.html

        The long version:
        https://web.archive.org/web/20150419031629/http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/hydrogen-economy-fuel+cell/480

  10. Roy LeMeur says:

    “Heh, heh, he said hydrogen fueling station Beavis.”

  11. I3 says:

    Nikola (Tesla) and “Hydrogen” he didn’t invent it!!

  12. Don Zenga says:

    Earlier they said that after 200 mile electric range, there will be another 1000 mile CNG range. Why did they switch to Hydrogen. There are 1000 + CNG stations, but only 28 Hydrogen stations. Even by 2020, there may be only 100 Hydrogen stations.

    If they keep wavering, then Tesla will grab all the electric truck market.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “Earlier they said that after 200 mile electric range, there will be another 1000 mile CNG range. Why did they switch to Hydrogen.”

      That is an excellent question. I had some hope that they could have made the economics work, despite the fact that nobody trying to make a gas turbine vehicle has ever succeeded in making a profit selling it. Maybe not a very realistic hope, but at least it was physically possible.

      So why did Nikola throw that out and jump into the boat with the “hydrogen economy” promoting science deniers? I wonder if we’ll ever find out the answer. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

      1. georgeS says:

        If it were me and I was trying to get an electric semi to market in a reasonable time I would go with an EREV. Make it a pure series machine with a fuel efficient diesel driving a generator and CNG or LNG fuel. Doesn’t Nikola own the NG network anyway>seems like a good marriage resulting in a product quick to market, lower cost than both the FC truck or Elons pure electric with respectable GHG emissions.

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