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Nikola One is a fully electric Class 8 truck fueled by hydrogen that vastly exceeds just about every performance and cost metric of conventional diesel-powered haulers (all images: Nikola).

Nikola CEO: Fuel-Cell Class 8 truck on track for 2021

Stressing that Nikola Motor’s primary intent is to eliminate emissions related to Class 8 over-the-road trucking, company president and CEO Trevor Milton confirmed at a technology conference in Detroit that Nikola remains on track to deliver its first fuel cell-powered electric trucks beginning in 2021.

Milton reinforced that the Nikola One truck—intended to be fueled by hydrogen generated from a network of nearly 350 company-built, solar-powered electrolysis stations across the nation—will have a driving range of 800-1200 mi (1287-1931 km), 1000 hp and 2000 lb·ft (2712 N·m) delivered to four rear wheels and dramatically lower operating costs.

At September’s Technology in Motion conference in Detroit, Milton said that concepts for battery-electric heavy-duty from Toyota and Tesla, as well as a recently-introduced concept from Cummins, prove Nikola’s business model that indicates electric drive makes sense for over-the-road trucking.

Those prospective competitors “validate our business plan,” Milton asserted.

Cheaper by the ton-mile

Milton showed data to indicate the Nikola One fuel-cell truck can achieve an equivalent of close to 450 ton-miles of hauling capacity per gallon of fuel. A conventional diesel-engine Class 8 hauler, he said, delivers only about 300 ton-miles per gallon.

He added that the Nikola One is the only known production-intent Class 8 truck that can achieve the 100% increase in overall freight efficiency targeted by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s ambitious Supertruck II program.

Salt Lake City-based Nikola said a conventional diesel-fueled Class 8 truck currently achieves up to about 7.5 mpg, while the electric Nikola One truck has an equivalent fuel economy of 13-15 mpg. Most long-haul trucks end up using more than three times more fuel than the truck’s initial cost, with some operators spending more than a half-million dollars on fuel over the lifetime of the truck. The Nikola One’s dramatically better efficiency—combined with Nikola’s Complete Lease Program model that includes free hydrogen fuel—means operators will see an operating cost that’s half that of a conventional Class 8.

Also helping to reduce total operating cost: the Nikola One is some 2000 lb (907 kg) lighter than a typical diesel-engine Class 8 hauler. Every pound saved in a heavy-duty truck is worth 50 cents in daily value per load, Milton said. The weight reduction is attributed to elimination of the engine, transmission and other heavy driveline components, although the Nikola One also uses carbon-fiber bodywork pieces and other weight-optimized components.

Technical particulars remain

Earlier this year, Nikola indicated Tennessee’s Fitzgerald Glider has been contracted to build the first 5000 Nikola One trucks while the company prepares its own assembly plant. The company reportedly said earlier this year the plant’s location would be named by the end of the year, but Milton did not provide further details.

He also asserted the truck’s 320-kWh lithium-ion battery pack uses technology that is roughly 50% more energy-dense than Tesla’s batteries and is “built for a million miles,” but he did not offer specifics, other than to refer to the truck’s sophisticated thermal-management system. The batteries are the Nikola One’s storage and ‘buffer’ for the 300-kW fuel-cell’s electric output; Milton said the combination avoids deep discharge of the batteries, which prolongs their service life.

Meanwhile, Nikola’s plan for nearly 350 self-sustaining hydrogen-fueling stations would appear ambitious by nearly any analysis. Although the company intends to begin building the stations next year, Milton indicated it will take a decade to complete the entire network that is crucial to the company’s goal of completely emissions-free operation as well as ensuring convenient access to fuel that means, Milton asserted, “the (electric vehicle) range anxiety that used to be a huge issue is no longer there.”

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