If It Doesn't Smell Like Diesel, Is It Still a Truck?

May 12, 2016

The Nikola Motor Co., named after the famous electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, announced this week it is taking orders for its first-ever electric driven Class 8 semi-truck, dubbed Nikola One, which is capable of pulling a total gross weight of 80,000 pounds and offering more than 1,200 miles between stops.

And better than just being a near-zero emissions vehicle that puts out 3,700 lb.-ft. of torque carried on a fully independent suspension with a low center of gravity, with a full-size fridge and freezer, a sunroof over two full size beds, and a planned feature called the Virtual Hitch that allows up to five driverless Nikola Ones to convoy behind one human driven lead truck: The Nikola One just looks way cool.

Trevor Milton, CEO and founder of the Nikola Motor Co. (NMC) located in Salt Lake City, named the company after Nikola Tesla, the visionary electrical engineer (you are probably familiar with his last name already) to design and manufacture electric vehicles (EV), storage systems, and EV drive train components.

NMC's experimental electric semitrailer is powered by an advanced hybrid drive train made up of electric motors that spin all six wheels, a 320 kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack, and an on-board turbine. The motors drive the truck by themselves until the batteries run low, and then the fuel-agnostic turbine automatically kicks in to generate electricity. (You are going to hear the term 'fuel agnostic' more frequently as EVs come to market. It means the turbine can run on either diesel or gasoline.) The standard model will have a 15DGE natural gas tank.

The truck's turbine runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). The standard model will have a 150-gallon tank. NMC's website shows a map of the company's planned CNG stations which will be positioned across the country on two major trucking routes. The first route will run from San Francisco to New York, the second route will extend from Los Angeles to Tampa.

Items of interest in the Nikola One include:

  • The 335 horsepower electric motor and a dual gear reduction at every wheel (6x6). Combined,  Nikola One outputs over 2,000 horsepower and over 3,700 ft.lbs of torque before gear reduction and nearly 86,000 ft.lbs. of instant torque after gear reduction.
  • The first Class 8 vehicle to offer a fully independent suspension based on Meritor's all-wheel drive ProTec High Mobility product line for better ride and steering efficiency.
  • A lightweight carbon fiber cab that the company says is 30 percent larger than current diesel cabs. The cab has a sliding mid-entry door for easy access and all the electronic comforts of home such as a 15-inch infotainment display, 42-inch television, microwave, fridge/freezer, climate system, and internet/Wi-Fi capabilities. All of these electronics will be powered by a 320 kWh battery pack.
  • Regenerative braking technology, an energy recovery mechanism that slows the truck by converting kinetic energy into a form that can be stored until needed. With no shifting or clutching, the Nikola One's braking is faster, safer and quieter.
  • A first-ever 6x6 torque vectoring system of hardware and software that allows safer cornering, improves traction, an increases tire and component life.
  • Regenerative breaking is more efficient that traditional braking, which uses friction to slow a vehicle and wears braking systems faster. NMC's website says the semitrailer will cost half as much to operate as traditional diesel trucks and provides an interactive cost calculator for comparison.

The first working prototypes of the electric semi truck will be displayed to the public later this year, along with a 520-horsepower, 4x4 electric UTV with a code name of "Nikola Zero."

The semi will retail for $375,000, and reservations for the Nikola One are now available on the company's website for a fully refundable $1,500 deposit. Leasing will also be available. The first 5,000 reservations get free fuel (see website) for 1,000,000 miles.