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Nikola Motor unveils trucking’s hydrogen future

The Nikola Two hydrogen-electric tractor was one of just five zero-emission vehicles Nikola Motor showed at NikolaWorld 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona, on April 16, 2019. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )

Nikola Motor unveiled five zero-emission products for the first time at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona, in its quest to become the world’s most disruptive force in trucking and powersports.

The majority of the products were among the worst-kept secrets in trucking, but that didn’t stop the audience of 2,000 from 49 different countries and those watching on a live stream globally on April 16, 2019, from being impressed with the official debuts of the Nikola Two and Nikola Tre hydrogen-electric tractors, the NZT, the Reckless and a new addition, the Nikola WAV, during the event, dubbed NikolaWorld 2019.

Nikola founder Trevor Milton rode into the auditorium atop a Budweiser wagon, pulled by the famous Clydesdales to get the event started.

“They represent how America was built,” Milton said in his opening remarks. “The foundation of America was built on the backs of horses.

“Tonight is all about now,” he added moments later. “Imagine leaving the world better than we found it?”

Nikola Motor’s mission is to create a zero-emission future, and that fits with the company’s expanded product portfolio on display at the event.

“We want to transform everything about the transportation industry,” said Milton. “With Nikola’s vision, the world will be cleaner, safer and healthier.”

For most in the transportation industry, the two trucks shown, the Nikola Two hydrogen-electric day cab, and its European cousin the Tre, were the show, but Milton had much more in store on this night.

 The Reckless is a purpose-built vehicle for the military. It features zero emissions and offers a nearly silent ride, something that can be critical to achieving a military unit’s objective of surprise. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )
The Reckless is a purpose-built vehicle for the military. It features zero emissions and offers a nearly silent ride, something that can be critical to achieving a military unit’s objective of surprise. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )

He kicked off the product introductions with the Reckless, a purpose-built specialty vehicle designed for the military to assist with missions when stealth is required.

“It’s a product that we designed to be special – special to the special forces, special to the families of the special forces,” Milton said.

The Reckless can operate in autonomous or remote-controlled mode in addition to being driven and is nearly silent with zero emissions.

Following the introduction of the Reckless, Milton turned to the company’s Powersports division, which has been hard at work leveraging the $1 billion investment in Nikola technologies into useful products to revolutionize off-road and watercraft.

The NZT is an electric utility vehicle designed for off-road use. It features automotive-like features, such as air conditioning, dust-free interior and connectivity, in an electrified vehicle designed for tooling around the trails.

 The NZT offers electric-power and zero emissions in an off-road utility vehicle. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )
The NZT offers electric-power and zero emissions in an off-road utility vehicle. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )

Nikola also showed its new WAV (Water Adventure Vehicle). WAV is an electric wave runner that includes a completely submersible 4K electronic display and cruise control.

“The consumers spoke, Nikola listened, and we built the future of watercraft,” Milton said.

 The Nikola WAV is a personal watercraft that also runs on electric power with the same power as a gasoline-powered craft. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )
The Nikola WAV is a personal watercraft that also runs on electric power with the same power as a gasoline-powered craft. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )

On the trucking side, Nikola will eventually offer the Nikola One (sleeper model), the Two (day cab) and the Tre (also a day cab). On this night, it was the Two and the Tre that stole the show.

Milton noted how others, such as Toyota (NYSE: TM) and Kenworth (NASDAQ:PCAR), are now working on hydrogen trucks, but he took pride in being the first to go down the path.

“If we have to go out and pioneer it to force these other guys to do their damn job, then I’m going to do it,” he said to great applause.

Calling hydrogen one of the most abundant and renewable fuels on the planet, Milton said the time was right for a hydrogen truck. The key is the fuel cells, which provide the necessary power and range.

“The truck is built entirely around the fuel cell, which means the chassis was purpose built … to give you that 600-mile range,” said Jesse Schneider, executive vice president of hydrogen and fuel cell technology for Nikola Motor.

 The Nikola Tre is nearly identical in specs to the Nikola Two, but will be marketed to the European market. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWave s)
The Nikola Tre is nearly identical in specs to the Nikola Two, but will be marketed to the European market. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWave s)

Nikola said its tractors’ motors produce up to 2,000 foot-pounds of torque and 1,000 horsepower for an effective range of 500 to 750 miles with a hydrogen refill time of less than 20 minutes. The Nikola Tre, to be sold in Europe and Australia, features a range of 500 to 1,200 kilometers due to a slightly smaller hydrogen fuel tank.

The tractors feature an 800-volt AC motor with a 250 kWh capacity and single-speed direct drive transmission and low-noise gears. Available in either 6×2 or 6×4 tractor configuration, the vehicles feature liquid cooled e-axles. Active descent control comes standard.

The company will actually offer the Two and Tre in both hydrogen-electric and battery electric models. Milton said the powertrains are identical, it is simply the mechanism used to recharge the electric motor that changes. He expects about 80 percent of the sales to be the hydrogen-electric models.

The frame is made of steel and aluminum and the truck features independent front and rear suspensions. Nikola-produced front axles are rated at 12,000 to 14,600 pounds while Nikola tandem rear axles are rated at 40,000 to 46,000 pounds. A SAF-Holland FWAL Aluminum fifth wheel is standard.

Air disc brakes are supplied by Meritor. The rear brakes are Meritor air disc with regenerative braking technology to recoup lost energy in the braking process.

Lightweight wheels are standard with tires measuring 275/80 22.5 inches. The hydrogen fuel tanks, located behind the cab, are made of Type IV carbon fiber.

The trucks also feature variable ride height adjustment. The Nikola Two weighs between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds. Gross combined weight ratio is 80,000 pounds.

Nikola said the electric motor can reach peak torque almost immediately, allowing the truck to accelerate up to twice as fast as a stock diesel tractor. The aerodynamics of the cab reduce power needs, the company said, and when combined with regenerative braking and the efficient electric motors, the Nikola tractors have an advantage in fuel economy over diesel trucks.

The company also believes that its drive-by-wire solution that allows torque to be pushed to each wheel independently leads to a more efficient and stable ride through acceleration, braking and cornering events.

On the safety front, the trucks come standard with advanced safety systems

Thanks to the removal of most of the common components found in diesel engines, Nikola was able to move the driver forward and developed a mid-cab entry for the driver. This has also allowed for a panoramic windshield for better overall visibility. Digital camera mirrors provide additional visibility and reduce blind spots. When the vehicle is turning, the cameras adjust automatically with the trailer movement.

Inside the cab, there is room for team drivers and the Nikola Two features four seats in total and a table. It also includes a 21-inch 4K infotainment touchscreen that can control most of the functions of the truck and a 13-inch digital instrument cluster with integrated onboard diagnostics.

The 21-inch 4K display gives you complete control of your vehicle,” Milton said. “It tells you where hydrogen stations are, and down the road, it will give you [access to freight]. It will tell you how money you made.

“The fit and finish is what you would find in a high-end automobile,” Milton added.

There is also an online customer portal where driver profiles and locations, miles, routes, energy consumption and more can be viewed.

It features electric and hydraulic power steering and high- performance LED lighting.

Nikola is offering a “Complete Leasing Program,” which bundles the vehicle cost, hydrogen fuel, and warranty and maintenance costs into a single monthly lease payment. Owners will have the option to trade in for a new Nikola vehicle every million miles or 84 months, whichever comes first.

All the vehicles should be production ready in the next few years.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.
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