One of the underlying themes that Nikola Motor Company founder & CEO Trevor Milton hammered home during a two-day public reveal of Nikola’s emissions-free future at Nikola World 2019 was the amount of cooperation the company has received from suppliers. Milton, in essence, admitted that he was smart enough to know that there are smarter people than him in the world, and he wanted to leverage that expertise.
To do that, he reached out to some of the leading companies in the trucking space, names like Ryder (NYSE: R), Meritor (NYSE: MTOR) and Bosch, to gain insights and tap into their expertise in building components for Nikola’s trucks. He also reached out to other suppliers, maybe not as well known, but just as accomplished in their respective areas.
The ultimate goal was to create a new kind of company with a new kind of truck that everyone could be proud of and customers wanted to buy. Speaking with some of the suppliers at Nikola World 2019, that seems to have been accomplished.
“We came out of those discussions really challenged,” Jason Roycht, vice president of commercial vehicles for Bosch, explained about working with Nikola. “They didn’t have any legacy … but they started out with a vision.
“It was a healthy push,” he added. “It lit a fire under us.”
Roycht said that working with Nikola has gone well and Bosch itself has learned a lot in the process and as a result has some ideas for the future about how it can leverage the technologies used on the Nikola trucks. He also thinks the timing is right for Milton to push hydrogen-electric truck models.
“You have renewable energy costs coming down, you have companies like Anheuser-Busch that are [seeking to reduce vehicle emissions],” he said. “Companies that are on the cutting edge, companies that want to reduce their emissions, are the perfect customers for Nikola.”
Nikola has sought to partner with companies that are best-in-class and fill the expertise gap that Nikola does not have in some areas. For instance, Milton told media members that the company is willing to partner with others around the world to bring its technology forward and allow other manufacturers to incorporate it into their vehicles.
“We recruited the best people to be our partners,” Milton said.
Bosch has installed a number of technologies on the Nikola trucks, including digital mirrors that replace traditional mirrors. The digital mirrors have cameras that show a vehicle’s surroundings on displays inside the cab. Bosch worked with Mekra on the digital vision system, which won the Consumer Electronic Show 2019 Innovation Award. In addition to standard visibility views, a digital trailer panning feature smoothly shifts the view of the mirror system as the truck and trailer turn. This provides the driver with more visibility than ever before when maneuvering tight turns and reversing with the trailer.
Bosch is also supplying the electronically controlled steering system called Servotwin, which is a foundation technology for advanced safety systems, and something called the Perfectly Keyless digital key. Hardware on the truck communicates with a smartphone via Bluetooth to allow a driver to lock and unlock or start the vehicle. The digital key can be shared with other drivers as needed, and restrictions can be placed on it as well, so someone can only unlock the door but not start the vehicle, or have access to it for only a certain number of days, increasing security.
For its new fuel cell laboratory, which will be able to test fuel cells from a single cell to a full stack in a climate-controlled environment, Nikola has partnered with AVL Test Systems.
AVL will provide the electrification and fuel cell testing equipment for the facility.
“At AVL, we’re all about developing clean, efficient propulsion technology,” said Kyle Kimel, president of AVL Test Systems. “Nikola has some truly unique ideas, and it’s exciting to help bring this vision to life.”
AVL’s advanced testing hardware includes a heavy-duty chassis dynamometer, fuel cell system testbed, fuel cell durability testbeds and a high-voltage battery test container. These will be run with AVL’s lab management suite, a set of software that acts as the backbone of the entire lab.
Meritor, a name familiar to those in the trucking industry with a long-history of providing quality components and service, has supplied regenerative braking systems for the trucks, allowing the electric motors to receive energy boosts as the system recoups energy typically wasted during braking events and transmits that power to the batteries.
Mahle has supplied a thermal management system, HVAC system as well as a compressor, remote cooling sensor and exhaust system.
Wabco is providing its electronic braking system, which is popular in Europe but not commonly used in the U.S. The system can stop a truck much quicker than standard air disc brakes since the electronic signal is sent almost instantaneously to the brake pedal being depressed.
Pratt & Miller Mobility is a name many might not recognize but may be the most important supplier for the Nikola Two truck. The Detroit-based company assembled the vehicle. It specializes in prototype and low-volume assemblies. Once Nikola starts mass producing the vehicle at its Arizona manufacturing plant (which is currently being built), Pratt will hand off the duties, but as the vehicle goes through extensive testing and possible changes, Pratt remains a critical partner.
Ryder System, Inc. is providing sales and maintenance support to Nikola. Thompson Machinery, a Caterpillar dealer, will offer maintenance in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Ryder has extensive experience working with electric vehicles and continues to build out its own electric vehicle fleet through partnerships with Chanje, Workhorse and Daimler, in addition to a distribution agreement with Nikola Motor Company. As a company, Ryder has more than 200 million miles of electric and natural gas vehicle experience to date.
Other suppliers include TE Connectivity, which supplied the high voltage and high amperage connector cables for the truck as well as numerous sensors, and through its sister company Q Cells, 174 Power Global will supply the solar panels that will adorn the tops of Nikola’s hydrogen stations.