Nikola’s plans for producing zero-emission commercial vehicles has been dealt another setback, as it ends a collaboration with Republic Services to develop electric refuse trucks.
The companies were looking to develop a fully integrated refuse truck with a battery-electric drive and body, while also integrating new systems.
Nikola announced Dec. 23 that both companies determined that the new technologies and design concepts would take longer to develop than expected and result in “unexpected costs.” A previously announced vehicle order for 2,500 units has been canceled.
“This was the right decision for both companies given the resources and investments required,” said Nikola CEO Mark Russell in a statement. “We support and respect Republic Services’ commitment to achieving environmentally responsible, sustainable solutions for their customers. Nikola remains laser-focused on delivering on our battery-electric and fuel-cell electric commercial truck programs, and the energy infrastructure to support them.”
The plans, announced in August, had been for Nikola and Republic to work together to develop a vehicle with an anticipated range of 150 miles on a residential refuse collection routes of up to 1,200 stops or commercial collection of 140 stops per day. In a tweet to announce that deal, former CEO Trevor Milton tweeted that the order was guaranteed, with the option of doubling the order to 5,000 trucks.
In what both companies called an industry first, Nikola was going to deliver a complete truck to the customer — chassis, powertrain, and body — all assembled at Nikola’s Coolidge, Arizona, plant. The bodies would have been licensed from existing suppliers and installed by Nikola. At the time of the August announcement, Milton said that by more closely integrating the design and installation of the various components on the Nikola Tre chassis, significant savings in cost and complexity could have been achieved.
Not giving up on electrification
Republic Services operates 18,000 refuse and recycling collection trucks in the U.S. and is second only to Waste Management in size. A 2020 HDT Top Green Fleet, it recently took delivery of its first Mack LR Electric waste collection truck. It also runs a portion of its fleet on natural gas, and has been increasing its use of renewable natural gas.
When the two companies announced the deal in August, Republic Services President Jon Vander Ark pointed out that it wasn’t putting all its eggs in one truck-maker basket. "I think if you look at us, if you look at any player in the space, they have multiple OEM partners going forward. We are pro-electrification, and we want everybody to get there, even providers that we don’t buy from, because I think that creates a cleaner future for everybody.”
Refuse is seen as one of the applications where electrification has early promise, because refuse trucks return to a home base every night where they can charge, and recouping energy from regenerative braking can extend range.
Nikola’s ongoing problems
Nikola’s stock price took a dive following the announcement. Republic wasn’t the first partner to pull back from an agreement recently.
Just last month, General Motors abandoned plans to take an 11% stake in Nikola and produce the Badger electric pickup truck, and instead introduced a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding to integrate GM Hydrotec fuel cell systems into Nikola Class 7 and 8 vehicles. Initial prototypes of that equipment are scheduled for next year, with the beta prototypes to follow in the first half of 2022. In the process, Nikola announced that it was returning all deposits on its promised Badger pickup truck.
In September, Nikola found itself responding to a damning report by Hindenburg Research, a short seller that accused Nikola of fraud in its portrayal of its battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology. Founder Trevor Milton left the company later that month.
The company says it plans to begin delivering battery-electric Nikola Tre tractors next year, and also break ground on its first commercial hydrogen station. Fuel-cell-electric trucks are scheduled to be produced in Arizona beginning in 2023.
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