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Nikola reveals fuel cell truck timing but nothing new on customers

Tre model that wasn’t originally planned for US now highlights the portfolio

Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) extended its timeline Tuesday to show when it will begin producing zero-emission hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks. But the startup offered no new information on customer orders.

The cabover Tre model originally planned only for Europe will be the first to get a fuel cell after initial production of battery-electric models. Low-volume production of hand-built Tre models will begin in the second quarter at Nikola’s plant still under construction in the Arizona desert.

Nikola updated its timeline for production. Source: Nikola Corp.

Ranges of 300 to 900 miles

The battery-electric model will be followed by prototype fuel cell Tre models, which are expected to be given to Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD) for testing in 2022. 

The battery-electric Tre cabover is capable of going 300 miles before recharging, ideal for local and regional haul.

The fuel cell Tre model has a 500-mile range and can be refueled quickly for fast turnaround.

Nikola gave its first definitive timing for the long-haul Nikola Two sleeper on Tuesday. It will offer a 900-mile range without stopping to refuel. The Two sleeper cab, based on a new chassis custom designed for North American long-haul routes, is expected to go into production in late 2024.

“To expedite the transition to a carbon-free future, the trucking industry needs heavy-duty, zero-emission commercial vehicles engineered to match the weight and range capabilities of today’s diesel trucks,” Jason Roycht, Nikola’s global head of fuel cell electric vehicles, said in a press release.

The Nikola Tre and Nikola Two FCEVs expect to use multiple common fuel-cell power modules and scalable hydrogen storage systems. Both systems are in development and testing with industry leaders collaborating with Nikola Engineering. 

“Our plan is to enter the market in steps,” Roycht said. “We are building on the current Tre platform with the planned launch of our fuel-cell and hydrogen storage systems in 2023.”

No new details on orders

Nikola declined to provide a breakdown on customer orders for the three trucks. It is sticking  with the 14,000 reservation number it has used since at least April 2019. At the time, Nikola was planning fuel cell trucks in North America and a battery-electric model for sale only in Europe.

A lot has happened at Nikola since it went public via a reverse merger with VectoIQ Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), in June 2020. Company founder Trevor Milton left the company last September following a bruising short seller report by Hindenburg Research accusing Nikola of making fraudulent technology claims. 

That report led a tentative manufacturing and equity deal with General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) to unravel. A heavily hyped electric pickup truck called the Badger was canceled. And Republic Services Group canceled an order for 1,500 Tre-based electric refuse haulers.

Nikola reports its fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 sales and earnings after the market closes Thursday. Shares, which traded as high as $93.99 intraday last June, were trading Tuesday at $19.39, down 7.31% at 12:31 p.m.

The decline coincided with comments from CFRA analyst Garrett Nelson. He said Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has the first mover advantage in Class 8 electric trucks, though it is not yet producing them.

“With no revenue and no profitability in sight, but with a growing backlog, Nikola has its work cut out to justify its current valuation of ~$20 billion,” Nelson said. “[It] is presently more of a business plan than a revenue-generating business.”

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.