Nikola Motor says it soon will have fuel cell and battery-electric trucks as well as electric ATVs – one configured as a stealthy, drone-launching military scout vehicle – a string of hydrogen fuel stations and even an electric personal watercraft.
The Phoenix, Ariz., startup showed a crowd of nearly 2,000 suppliers, customers and potential investors its growing menagerie of electric vehicles at a lavish event Tuesday aimed at firing up enthusiasm.
Not coincidentally, Nikola – launched just seven years ago in founder Trevor Milton’s basement – used Tuesday’s event to announce a new investment drive aimed at raising at least $1.5 billion to fund Milton’s dreams.
“They will need to do it if they are to be successful,” Antti Lindstrom, trucking analyst with IHS Markit, told Trucks.com as the four-hour “Nikola World 2019” event wrapped up in a cavernous event hall in Scottsdale.
Milton kicked things off by arriving on a high-wheeled beer wagon drawn by eight of the famed Budweiser Clydesdale horses.
Bud brewer Anheuser-Busch is a major Nikola development partner, testing the company’s trucks in its fleet and publicly announcing last year that it intended to buy up to 800 of the hydrogen fuel cell models for its fleet of long-haul delivery vehicles.
Unlike the Bud wagon, each Nikola truck can deliver about 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 pound-feet of torque.
An investment firm representative who requested anonymity for competitive reasons told Trucks.com that the show of support from major businesses such as Anheuser-Busch and automotive parts and technology developer Bosch has helped make Nikola a credible company. Bosch is supplying Nikola with powertrain components.
Nikola’s zero-emission trucks “will play a key role in our plans” to slash transportation fleet carbon emissions by 18 percent, Ingrid de Ryck, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president for sustainability, said Tuesday as she toasted Milton with a can of her company’s best-selling brew.
Key to Nikola’s success will be its ability to deliver on the promise to supply hydrogen fuel to its truck customers via a network of 700 hydrogen fuel stations in the U.S., analyst Lindstrom said.
The company is partnering with Norway’s Nel Hydrogen for development of its fueling stations.
FUELING NIKOLA’S GROWTH
“Without the hydrogen stations, all they have is a truck that won’t be able to find fuel,” Lindstrom said.
Nikola’s marketing plan is to lease or sell trucks, maintenance and fuel for about $900,000 in a million-mile package. That will cost trucking companies less over the million-mile life of the plan than the Class 8 diesel trucks they now operate, Milton said.
Rolling trucks and fuel – along with maintenance provided by Ryder Systems and Thompson Caterpillar – into a package may give potential customers confidence that they will have a usable new-technology truck if they deal with Nikola, said Lindstrom.
Its plan to not only build and sell zero-emission trucks but also to supply hydrogen fuel has been critical to Nikola’s rapid ascent from a Utah basement to a $75 million headquarters and research center in Phoenix – with a fuel cell development lab and a $1 billion manufacturing plant under development.
Milton and Nikola’s newly hired president, Mark Russell, didn’t say much about plans for the funds it hopes to raise in the new investment round. But much of the money will go to developing the Nikola hydrogen stations and acquiring sites for them. Milton has said that wherever possible, the stations will produce hydrogen on site using solar or wind energy.
To date, Nikola has raised about $300 million, Milton said, is debt free – even after building its new headquarters and paying a reported $23.8 million for the 329-acre parcel for its new plant.
Nikola says it has nonbinding orders for more than 13,000 of its hydrogen-electric and battery-electric trucks. That represents more than a decade of production and at least $13 billion in revenue if every order is fulfilled.
While Nikola has plans to offer battery-electric variants of its two day-cab Class 8 trucks, Milton said that he expects hydrogen fuel cell trucks to account for at least 80 percent of the company’s business.
Both are electric vehicles, Milton said. The difference is in how the electricity gets on board – stored in batteries that are charged form the power grid, or produced on board by extracting electrons from hydrogen gas in a fuel cell.
“We are neutral” and will provide customers whichever powertrain is best for their needs, Milton said.
TRUCKS AND MORE
The Nikola trucks that can be ordered with either fuel cell or battery-electric powertrains are the Nikola Two for the North American market and the Nikola Tre for Europe. The Tre – Norwegian for “three” – will be built on the same platform as the Two, but will have a narrower body to better negotiate European roads.
Both are day-cab models, but the Tre that rolled onto the stage Tuesday was outfitted with a pair of wide bunks and an impressive video entertainment center in the space behind the driver and front passenger seats.
Milton said the area, utilizing space created in part by the absence of a diesel engine and transmission, could also hold a worktable and four chairs.
The event marked the first appearance of the Tre – Nikola has previously shown a computer rendering – as well as the first appearance of a production version of the Nikola Two.
Nikola also has plans for a long-haul truck with a full sleeper cab, the Nikola One, and has shown a prototype version at prior events. The company did not have a production version ready for the inaugural Nikola World, but Milton said Nikola is on schedule to begin production of commercial versions of its trucks in 2022 at a new factory it plans to build in a rural area in Coolidge, about an hour outside of Phoenix.
In addition to its trucks, which will constitute the bulk of Nikola’s business, Milton used Tuesday’s event to show off several other products:
- The NZT, a battery-electric all-terrain vehicle featuring a fully enclosed cab and designed for near silent, emissions-free operation.
- The “Reckless,” a militarized version of the NZT that can be operated by remote control, runs in silent electric mode, has no heat signature for enemy sensors to spot and carries an electric drone for aerial reconnaissance.
- The Nikola WAV – or Water Adventure Vehicle – a battery-powered personal watercraft with aggressive styling that, Milton said, will be put into production if there is sufficient public interest after Tuesday’s debut.