Fuel Smarts

Daycabs, Vocational Trucks Are Priorities for Nikola

December 02, 2016

By Tom Berg

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Photo: Nikola Motor
Photo: Nikola Motor

A daycab version of Nikola Motor Co.’s hydrogen-electric heavy-duty tractor will probably be the first one to enter production, said the firm’s founder and CEO, Trevor Milton, at the conclusion of a series of technical briefings on the products on Friday morning. And vocational straight trucks might be close behind.

An unveiling of a Nikola One, a streamlined sleeper-cab tractor, the previous evening put nearly all emphasis on the long-haul model. But short and regional hauling is as important and the daycab Nikola Two is simpler, he told HDT at the event’s conclusion. Daycab tractor versions 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. Dump and mixer trucks are likewise probable, and all-wheel drive would make them valuable in some on/off-road duties.

An earlier discussion of a Nikola’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.

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.

Engineers initially designed the Nikola with a 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’s plans to build hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations will include parking and shopping areas, and facilities will be “awesome -- they will be destinations,” Milton said. 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. As announced the night before, 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 have rights to handle Nikolas in those states.

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