Nikola Electric Trucks Promise a Tesla-Like Revolution

Side view of Nikola One semi-truck.
Nikola electric trucks are poised to disrupt the hauling industry. | Source: Nikola

Start with the name Nikola. It’s the first name of the Serbian inventor Tesla, from whom another electric car maker got its moniker. Continue with the industry-jarring Nikola One, a semi-truck running on electricity that nabbed over 7,000 reservations of $1,500 in its first month on the market. Add in the supreme confidence of its chief executive, and you can see how much Nikola Motors has in common with the world’s top EV maker. The Utah-based company is planning nothing short of a Tesla-like revolution in trucking.

According to the company, the Nikola One already has customers committing $3.2 billion, a figure that includes the full price of the finished product based on those 7,000 reservations. The truck runs on six electric motors and a 320-kWh battery pack charged by onboard natural-gas turbines that give it about 1,200 miles of range (100 to 200 miles on battery alone, should the turbines fail). So call it “mostly zero emissions” if you like.

Nikola One red front
Nikola One debuts in late 2016. | Source: Nikola

In terms of performance specs, Nikola One tops diesel-truck competition with 2,000 horsepower, 3,700 pounds-feet of torque, and an uphill (6%) top speed of 65 miles per hour. Being electric, One has access to the torque right off the line, giving it a big edge (two to one) over diesel engines in acceleration. Fueling costs are also two-to-three times lower in this hybrid model than truck operators get using diesel fuel.

Judging by the company’s press release announcing the pre-orders, Nikola’s ambition and confidence is every bit the equal of this impressive product. CEO Trevor Milton said the company technology “is 10-15 years ahead of any other OEM in fuel efficiencies, MPG and emissions.”

Source: Nikola
Nikola One has the look of the future down. | Source: Nikola

“We believe we will pass the current market leaders like Daimler, PACCAR, Volvo and Navistar in sales orders within the next 12-24 months,” Milton continued, suggesting a huge bump is ahead following the moment the company takes dealer applications. “We have shown other OEMs and their shareholders why they should be nervous about Nikola Motor Company.”

If Nikola can deliver on 75% of the promise of this truck, Milton’s statements will be justified. Nikola One will retail at a base price of $375,000 that includes fuel, warranty, and maintenance for 1 million miles or seven years, whichever happens first. The second option is a million-mile or seven-year lease at $5,000 a month. There is no limit in miles or fueling, and all maintenance is included in the cost. Batteries are covered under warranty. At the end of the term, Nikola would replace the truck with a new model.

What type of dent could electrified semi-trucks put in emissions? The amount could be staggering. While 27% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, medium- and heavy-duty diesel trucks create one-fifth of those emissions — that at only 5% of the vehicle count. Other benefits of models like Nikola electric trucks come down to how they operate and the fuel powering the turbines.

Nikola electric trucks run on natural gas and electricity
Nikola electric trucks run on natural gas and electricity. | Source: Nikola

On the fueling front, Nikola is taking the Tesla approach to building out infrastructure on its own. The company plans to have 55 compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in place for the first customers to access that free fuel (for up to 25,000 reservation holders), with no truck more than 400 miles away from a pump at any given time. (It takes 15 minutes to fill the tanks powering turbines.) Foreign oil won’t be an issue here; domestic CNG will.

Driver safety and community relations also get a big boost from truck fleets that choose to go electric. Compared to the standard diesel truck’s stopping distance of 300 feet, Nikola One can stop in 150 feet at high speeds. All-wheel (6×6) drive provides greater traction for operators as well.

Then there is the quietness of electric operation. When these trucks mingle in urban environments, the typical diesel-truck din won’t be a factor. This point will be huge for urban food suppliers and other companies with trucks roaring through town.

City government fleets looking to slash emissions, including New York and Seattle, targeted heavy-duty truck operations in their plans for a reason. It shouldn’t take another Dieselgate for the industry to acknowledge the impact of highly polluting commercial vehicles. Nikola Motors has the product and vision to change the game on this front. But first, we’ll have to see how it does with deadlines, something the other Tesla namesake has always struggled to manage.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY