Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) is trying to regain its footing following the sudden departure of founder Trevor Milton. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Hyundai Motor plans to begin testing imported heavy-duty fuel cell trucks in California in 2021.
Hyundai told analysts Sept. 15 that it would begin U.S. testing next year, according to Electrive.com. Hyundai earlier said it planned to bring hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks to North America in 2022. The company delivered 10 of its Xcient fuel cell trucks to Switzerland in July. Following a pilot program, Hyundai plans 1,600 of the H2 trucks for the Swiss market by 2025.
It aims to increase annual commercial hydrogen vehicle production from 11,000 units in 2020 to 40,000 units in 2022, 130,000 units in 2025, and 500,000 units in 2030.It showed a futuristic fuel cell tractor called the HDC-6 Neptune at the North American Commercial Vehicle show in October 2019.
Fuel cells emit only water vapor. They are a favorite of climate-conscious states like California, which in June passed an Advanced Clean Truck rule requiring a percentage of a fleet’s trucks to emit zero emissions beginning in 2024. Fifteen other states are expected to follow California.
Battery-powered trucks with no tailpipe emissions have the inside track on middle- and final-mile delivery trucks. Long-haul trucks require more cargo-limiting batteries, making them better suited for fuel cells.
Hyundai will focus on fleets of 3,000 to 5,000 trucks that can create their own refueling stations, avoiding the building a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Nikola’s contrasting approach
By contrast, Nikola plans to create a network of electricity-intensive fueling stations beginning with station pairs along fuel cell truck customers’ dedicated routes.
Global collaborations around hydrogen fuel cells will make driving diesel more expensive than hydrogen at some point in the future, Nikola Chief Financial Officer Kim Brady said during an Evercore ISI virtual forum Tuesday.
The drawback of making hydrogen at fuel stations, Brady said, is electricity expense, which can be 85% of the total cost. In locations like rural Arizona west of Phoenix, the juice can cost pennies per kilowatt hour because of ample solar energy. By contrast, the cost of electricity from the grid in parts of California is much higher.
Nikola has not yet announced its partner or partners for hydrogen station development. But CEO Mark Russell told a virtual Morgan Stanley conference on Sept. 14 that any partner will need to have access to electric infrastructure.
Separately, Daimler Trucks on Sept. 16 showed a heavy-duty fuel cell truck called GenH2 capable of a 360-mile range that it will produce in the second half of the decade. Versions are planned for the U.S. and Japan.