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Flatbed hauler PGT Trucking intends to lease 100 Nikola fuel cell trucks

Partner Iveco temporarily idles European plants because of semiconductor shortage

Workers at the Nikola plant in Coolidge, Arizona, install a fuel cell system in an early fuel cell electric truck. (Photo: Nikola Corp.)

Electric truck maker Nikola Corp. has a letter of intent for 100 fuel cell electric trucks from flatbed hauler PGT Trucking, converting a piece of its 14,000-unit reservation book for hydrogen-powered FCETs that has Anheuser-Busch at the front of the line.

Deliveries of fuel cell-equipped Tre daycabs capable of up to 500 miles of range are scheduled to begin in 2023. Early builds are underway at Nikola’s new plant in Coolidge, Arizona. The first two trucks will be road-tested by Anheuser-Busch, which contracted for up to 800 FCETs in 2018.

Nikola is continuing contacts with potential customers that placed reservations for 14,000 fuel cell trucks, CEO Mark Russell told FreightWaves on Thursday.

Converting reservations to contracts

“Anheuser-Busch was one that we moved to an actual contract early on because they wanted to help us get started and we knew that they would be an ideal launch customer … willing to declare way before we even had a delivery date,” Russell said.

“Anheuser-Busch was one that we moved to an actual contract early on because they wanted to help us get started and we knew that they would be an ideal launch customer … willing to declare way before we even had a delivery date.”

mark russell, ceo of nikola corp.

The letter of intent with Aliquippa, Pennsylvania-based PGT calls for completion of a successful demonstration program followed by a lease that includes trucks, scheduled maintenance and hydrogen fuel. Nikola previously has said the all-in lease would cover seven years and 1 million miles.

“I personally have a relationship that goes back a long way with [PGT],” Russell said. “They’ve been an early adopter of new technology for many years.”

PGT serves the steel, building materials, machinery, oil and gas, raw materials, aluminum and automotive industries with a fleet of more than 1,000 tractors and 1,500 trailers. It has embraced what’s next in trucking for 40 years, PGT President Gregg Troian said.

“Sustainable freight transportation will improve safety, reduce costs and CO2 emissions and improve economic efficiency,” he said. “This partnership will give us the opportunity to offer progressive transportation solutions to our customers, while aligning with corporate-driven sustainability initiatives, and reducing their carbon footprint using innovative energy sources.”

The chicken and the egg

Nikola (NASDAQ: NKLA) is building out its planned network of hydrogen fueling, including a recent agreement with other major hydrogen players to standardize hoses and nozzles that will put filling a fuel cell truck on par with the time it takes to refuel a diesel truck.

The startup has made several moves toward fulfilling a pledge of having 700 hydrogen filling stations by 2028, including last week’s agreement with Canada’s TC Energy to collaborate on plans to build and operate large-scale hydrogen hubs.

Nikola also has announced hydrogen fuel station development plans with renewable natural gas provider OPAL Fuels. It also has a memorandum of understanding to build two hydrogen fueling stations in California with truck stop operator TravelCenters of America.

In June, the company bought a $50 million stake in an Indiana hydrogen plant. Two months earlier, Nikola and European manufacturing joint venture partner Iveco formed a hydrogen pipeline alliance with natural gas distributor OGE.

Iveco plants idled

CNH Industries (NYSE: CNHI), Nikola’s manufacturing partner in Europe, is idling Iveco plants on the continent because of a shortage of semiconductors. Iveco’s S-Way manufacturing partner Iveco is the basis of the Nikola Tre battery-electric truck, which is being assembled at an Iveco plant in Ulm, Germany.

“If you’re in manufacturing, you know there’s semiconductors in almost everything these days,” Russell said. “Not having enough chips is a critical supply constraint. There are others.”

Nikola is sticking with its plan for regular production of BETs to begin in Q1 2022. 

“The only advantage we have here is that we’re only producing pre-series at the moment,” he said when asked about a workaround. “It’s not a high volume of trucks yet, so we’ve been able to get what we need to keep moving.”

Port bound

The first BETs from Ulm are destined for the Port of Hamburg in Germany, where Russell said they can build miles and hours of use. The same is true for TTSI Inc., which will test Coolidge-built Tres at the Port of Long Beach in California.

“They are perfect launch customers for us,” he said. “They’re getting heavy use. We can keep them on the grounds at Hamburg because it’s so large and so it’s almost a captive fleet for us.”

A Nikola Tre battery-electric truck during a test run of drayage at the Port of Long Beach, California. )Photo: Nikola)

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.