First Nikola Truck Could be Vocational

By Tom Berg, Truck Editor | December 5, 2016

Daycab versions of Nikola Motor Co.’s hydrogen-electric heavy-duty vehicles, including dump and mixer trucks, will be among the recently formed firm’s offerings, according to the firm’s founder and CEO, Trevor Milton.

In fact, Nikola Two, as the nonsleeper variant is called, will probably be the first model to enter production, Milton said at the conclusion of a series of technical briefings on the products last Friday morning.

A power take-off will be among options as development continues on the unusual fuel cell-powered, electrically propelled vehicles, Milton said in answer to a question. Steerable rear axles to enhance maneuverability are among features envisioned. All-wheel drive would make them valuable in some on/off-road duties.

The previous evening’s unveiling of Nikola One, a streamlined sleeper-cab tractor, put nearly all emphasis on the long-haul model. But short and regional hauling is as important, and the daycab Nikola Two is simpler and will cost less, he said. Listen to the company founders here:

Daycab trucks and tractors would share most operational benefits – low maintenance and operating costs along with zero emissions – with the over-the-road sleeper model. Vocational markets will include refuse, and Milton said he and his engineers are already planning a chassis for trash collection.

Milton said he’s planning 6x6 and 6x4 versions of the fuel cell-electric drive chassis; without front-driving gear, steer-axle wheels could cut sharper, aiding maneuverability in a number of applications.

A discussion of a Nikola truck or tractor’s likely lifespan included observations that the electric motors and battery “don’t need air to operate,” and the motors, anyway, could be driven into water and emerge undamaged. Electric components are inherently long-lived and Milton foresees recycling Nikola chassis after about 500,000 miles by making any repairs and replacing their cabs.

Engineers initially designed the Nikola with a natural gas-fueled turbine-electric powertrain, but decided to go to hydrogen fuel cells because they’re much quieter and cleaner, and require no emissions certification. A turbine version is still possible “for sale into markets where we can’t get hydrogen to,” he said.

The company plans to build hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations that will include parking and shopping areas, and facilities will be “awesome,” Milton said. “They will be destinations.” Existing truck stops were considered to be part of the network, but his team didn’t think their facilities were of the quality that Nikola wants for its customers and their drivers.

Production is three years away because durability testing must go through three winter seasons, and safety-related testing of braking systems and other components will also take time. Fitzgerald Gliders will build the first 5,000 units and Nikola Motor will erect a factory to assemble subsequent vehicles.

Ryder System will handle sales and service for most Nikolas at its 800-plus facilities in the United States and Canada. Thompson Machinery, a Caterpillar dealer in Kentucky and Tennessee and an early investor in Nikola Motor, will also have rights to handle Nikolas in those states.