Driving towards a greener future: Nikola's freight expectations

Amidst the stillness of the Arizona desert, Nikola Motor Company has been spearheading what it believes is the future of freight transportation. This Arizona based start-up manufacturer of hydrogen-powered Class 8 Semi trucks has taken in more than £14bn in pre-order reservations for its vehicles, while its investors also continue to queue up to join its transport technology revolution. Nikola and its CEO Trevor Milton have a unique angle to compete with Elon Musk, founder of California electric vehicle maker Tesla, to decarbonise road transport.

Musk has been a detractor of hydrogen energy for zero emission road transport and Tesla has its own electric trucks with production reportedly planned for next year. While Tesla and light-duty battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are ahead of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) in units on the road and, arguably, in terms of public perception, Nikola is reporting promising numbers and interest in its Nikola One and Nikola Two vehicles, which have a range of 600 miles (1000km) depending upon driving conditions, and a 15-minute refill time. Nikola has existing orders with some of the largest conglomerates in the world to bring the fuel cell truck to market.

To name a few, Ryder, US Express have signed up for large orders of trucks and hydrogen for their. Take beverage giant Anheuser-Busch as a prime example. Last year the company ordered 800 hydrogen-powered semi-trucks from Nikola and as this issue of H2 View was going to press, the company had just completed its first ever zero emission beer delivery with Nikola and BYD Motors, LLC - a milestone as described as 'amazing' by Nikola Executive Vice-President Jesse Schneider.

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In an exclusive interview with H2 View, he explained, "At Nikola we are developing both the chicken and the egg, the fuel cell truck and it's hydrogen infrastructure with the goal of rolling them out together. We've been testing our vehicles on a daily basis in the test track of Phoenix, Arizona, we've got a test track, and when we've been doing that we've been testing with close to 70,000 pounds of payload. We've been preparing for getting the vehicle to not only do regular routes but also do some long-range deliveries, and Anheuser-Busch approached us and said 'we'd like to do an event and do a first beer run' and that's what we ended up doing last week."

"The drive was highly publicised as it was running solely on hydrogen fuel cell power. We are proud to have AB as our partner in this field trial. Anheuser-Busch wants to get to zero emission deliveries and reduce their carbon footprint.

This aligns perfectly with Nikola's mantra of well-to-wheel-zero, so we're looking at sourcing carbon neutral electricity for our hydrogen, to fuel our zero emission fuel cell trucks, and that was our first opportunity to see it all come together on public roads last week." "The whole team was really psyched. It was the culmination of all of our efforts to do an actual commercial delivery.

That was a real milestone for all of us."

"Our mantra is well-to-wheel-zero, so we're looking at sourcing carbon neutral electricity for our hydrogen, to fuel our zero emission fuel cell trucks.."

A Nikola hydrogen-electric truck picked up the load of beer, including flagship beer brand Bud Light, and delivered it to Anheuser-Busch's local wholesaler partner, Lohr Distributors. The hydrogen delivery signified how future zero emissions long range transport will happen. The beer was then delivered by Lohr Distributors to the Enterprise Center, home of the St.

Louis Blues, on a BYD electric truck. The electric truck showed how regional transport will happen. It was a symbolic moment - a fusion of both Nikola and BYD's technologies, of hydrogen power and battery-electric, coming together in the name of zero emission trucking.

It was then, a true glimpse of the future for clean mobility. For Nikola, it marked the first commercial delivery onboard a Nikola hydrogen-electric vehicle and Schneider underlined the significance of the achievement. "For long-range haulage there's no other way to get to zero emissions on the road. The significance for us is really in proving that point; that this longer distance can be done with a fuel cell truck, and also that it's fast fuelling.

We were able to fill up in about 15 minutes. So that was pretty significant for all of us." US Xpress Enterprises was also reportedly set to begin fleet tests of Nikola's hydrogen-electric Class 8 trucks by the end of 2022.

But these are just two examples - there are so many more to come, with Schneider affirming there are at least 14,000 trucks on order as of November 2019 and "definitely more on order that are not yet announced." 2020 vision
The Nikola Two and Tre concept trucks were unveiled at Nikola World in Scottsdale, Arizona in April, the first showcase of its Class 8 truck and hydrogen fuelling station. The battery electric prototype version Tre was unveiled last week in Turin, Italy with Iveco.

In fact, 2020 is shaping up to be another big year for Nikola. The company moves into its next phase of development next year, and will be working with IVECO - the commercial vehicle brand of its investor CNH Industrial - on the development of its next generation electrification chassis as well as undertaking its first fleet trials.

Driving towards a greener future: Nikola's freight expectations

(C) Nikola "Nikola is working on both battery-electric and fuel cell trucks," Schneider says. "Essentially they're the same platform with a flexible architecture; the battery electric Tre truck will use a 750kWh battery with the the fuel cell Tre will have a 300kW fuel cell, and use a much smaller battery as a hybrid.

They both will use the same motors and cab and share many components to maximise modularity. The Fuel Cell Tre will get about 500 miles (800km) with its 60kg of hydrogen. The electric Tre will get 250 miles range (400km) and charge with 350kW."

"Next year we're planning our beta fuel cell prototypes, which are going to be doing the first fleet trials in 2021 & 2022. We're maximising the use of series components as we are going to be using a production chassis with IVECO S-Way, and both of these developments are going to be a big deal for both companies moving forward." Nikola will enter the New Year with an increasing number of admirers and investors, all of whom clearly believe in its roadmap to realisation.

September (2019) saw Bosch and Hanwha each invest at least £100m in Nikola Corporation, resulting in a combined investment totalled at £230m. Bosch has been an instrumental partner for Nikola in the development of its heavy-duty vehicle fuel cell system and battery technology, while Hanwha will partner in obtaining clean energy for its hydrogen fuelling network. The company is Nikola's exclusive solar panel provider, making the clean electricity critical to producing renewable hydrogen.
The investments of Bosch and Hanwha are part of Nikola's ongoing fundraising efforts and came just days after another major injection of funding and confidence, from CNH Industrial.

The latter's strategic and exclusive heavy-duty truck partnership will see it take a £250m strategic stake in Nikola as the lead Series D investor. Nikola anticipates raising over £1bn in the D round, granting around 25% ownership to new investors and business partners like CNHI. The partnership will accelerate industry transformation towards emission neutrality of Class 8/heavy duty trucks in North America and Europe through the adoption of fuel cell technology.

Nikola's heavy-duty trucks, powered by hydrogen fuel cell and battery technology, will be the first-to-production. IVECO and FPT Industrial, the commercial vehicle and powertrain brands of CNH Industrial, respectively, will assist in engineering and manufacturing expertise to industrialise Nikola's trucks.

"The difference with Nikola and why we have such support right now is because they see a path to success..."

Nikola will contribute technologies for a European JV and CNH Industrial that will include fuel cell expertise, e-axles, inverters, independent suspension, on-board hydrogen fuel storage, over-the-air software update functionality, infotainment, vehicles controls, vehicle-to-state communication protocols, power electronics, and access to a hydrogen fuelling network. Strategic near-term project milestones include the industrialisation of the Nikola Two fuel cell-powered Class 8 truck for the North American market, as well as the integration of IVECO S-Way truck technology into the battery-electric powered Nikola TRE cab-over model for both the North American and European markets.

CEO Trevor Milton has previously described such investments as a 'win-win' for all involved in zero emissions mobility, and Schneider believes it is Nikola's evident path to success in this area that is bringing such support. "The unique part of Nikola is that it's not a case of the chicken and the egg, it's the omelette: we're bringing the infrastructure with our fleets of vehicles," he said. "The difference with Nikola and why we have such support right now is because they see a path to success. We have these large [fuelling] stations that are coming in to support the fleets.

100% of our customers are based on fleets, and those fleets will be rolled out strategically with stations." A path to zero emissions success
This has been a point made by California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) Executive Director Bill Elrick in the past. He sees Nikola playing a vital role in the FCEV economy because "they are really showing us a vision on the heavy-duty side of what hydrogen is capable of and the entire package."

Driving towards a greener future: Nikola's freight expectations

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To encourage sales or leases, Nikola has committed to supplying the refuelling network. With Nel ASA as the equipment supplier, it plans to have hundreds of fuelling stations operational across North America by 2028, with each 'standard' station having 8,000kg of hydrogen production per day. "Our first pilot hydrogen station is going to be installed next year in Arizona, and that's where Anheuser-Busch has a location," affirms Schneider, "and in 2022, we'll be spreading out to California - planning to ramp up to 10 stations to California and then expand beyond that." "Each one of these stations has a capacity of eight tonnes of hydrogen per day, which is quite significant, and that'll help to start our fleet size of around 150 trucks per station - and each station is expandable to around 32 tonnes per day, which means we can expand the fleet to 600.

That's why investors are interested in Nikola - because they see a path to scalability and zero emissions success." The hydrogen fuelling cost is also built into the cost per mile that Nikola charges - ranging from £.85 - £1.00 per mile for the truck, hydrogen fuel, service, warranty, maintenance - and that rate stays the same for seven years when clients sign on for Nikola leasing/purchasing. Nikola's objective is also to produce hydrogen through zero emission methods whenever possible by using wind, solar and hydro-electricity. "Our objective is to remove the commercial truck from the carbon equation," Schneider affirms.

It's a holistic vision that Milton, Schneider and many others believe will ultimately be key to the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with haulage and fleet operators as the proving ground.

All stakeholders in clean mobility will be watching closely and, if Nikola and its partners can continue to make such rapid progress in their freight expectations, then we might just be one big step closer to a hydrogen-fuelled future.

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