When you think of semi-trucks, you probably don’t immediately think of an electric vehicle. In fact, it’s more likely that you wouldn’t pair a semi-truck with an electric vehicle at all. Big trucks are synonymous with diesel engines and diesel fuel and it would take one heck of an electric powertrain to be able to drive something as big as a truck, especially when you consider that these vehicles typically weigh 32,000 pounds empty and up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. Compact cars, conversely, usually weigh less than 3,000 pounds.
But thanks to one company, the Nikola Motor Company, electric semi-trucks may not be such a distant afterthought before long. You may have heard of the Nikola One before, and the truck reached another milestone toward widespread adoption in late 2016 when it was officially unveiled and introduced to the public. But beyond the fact that it runs on electricity – and is the first vehicle of its type to do so – there’s a lot of other notables to mention when it comes to this vehicle. For instance:
- Technically, it’s a hydrogen-electric truck that runs on hydrogen fuel and its 320 kWh battery pack. It produces zero emissions.
- “Range anxiety” is one of the key factors that have prevented drivers from widely adopting electric cars to date, which is the perceived notion that battery life won’t be sufficient for daily driving activity. The Nikola One claims an operating range of up to 1,200 miles. For comparison’s sake, the typical diesel truck has a range of anywhere from 500 to 750 miles.
- Other key specs include: 1,000 horsepower, 2,000 feet-per-pounds of torque, a 30-second 0 to 60 miles per hour time, fuel economy of 13-15 miles per gallon and a lighter overall weight ranging from 18,000 to 21,000 pounds.
- Design elements include a panoramic driver view, a lower overall center of gravity, about 30 percent more interior cab space, and on-board cameras to provide safety and enhanced visibility, among others.
Inside the Nikola One’s Regenerative Power
While the development and release of the Nikola One is a feat when it comes to the totality of the truck, there’s no question that the big advances surround its hydrogen-electric powertrain. And the key cog to the Nikola One featuring a range of up to 1,200 miles is none other than its hydrogen fuel source. Specifically, its 320 kWh battery pack consists of more than 32,000 lithium-ion cells. The pack is charged via a fuel cell, which is where the hydrogen comes into play. The hydrogen fuel feeds the battery pack, thereby enabling the electric drivetrain to get to work. An on-board advanced power electronics box helps manage the energy that the battery provides and helps keep the battery charged.
The Nikola Motor Company says that its battery pack is about three times the size of the Tesla Model S. It weighs about 4,000 pounds.
While the hydrogen-electric powertrain is significant, keep in mind the key cog that the Nikola One needs to operate – hydrogen fuel. Truckers, in particular, might be wondering just where they’ll be able to fuel up and how available the fuel source will be. The Nikola Motor Company has stated that it has plans for more than 360 hydrogen stations throughout the country. The company says these stations are strategically placed throughout both the U.S. and Canada – and that more are on the way.
Another thing that’s interesting is that the Nikola One isn’t just a zero emissions vehicle, but so is the means by which the company produces hydrogen fuel. On that matter, the Motor Company says that it will build up to 100 solar farms to create hydrogen from the process of electrolysis, a clean energy method that uses the sun’s energy and water. The hydrogen fuel can then be transported – via a Nikola One truck, we’d presume – to the hydrogen stations located throughout North America. The hydrogen fuel is said to be created in liquid form, then dispended into Nikola One trucks via a compressed or liquid hydrogen state.
The Value Proposition
Because the Nikola One is custom built for each person who orders one, it’s tough to pinpoint the exact cost to lease or own one of the trucks, but the company does indicate that it will be affordable. However, the Nikola Motor Company has provided some details about the value proposition involved with acquiring a Nikola One versus a conventional diesel engine semi-truck (aside from just zero emissions). Here’s a closer look:
- The company estimates that Nikola One drivers can experience a $1,000 savings per load, or about a savings of 50 cents per pound.
- The company says that the Nikola One gets anywhere from 13-15 miles per gallon, which is much better than the 7.5 mpg that a diesel semi achieves. This presents up to a 30 cent savings when you consider fuel cost per mile traveled.
- Nikola One trucks are designed to last for more than 1 million miles, which is said to be about double that of a conventional truck. What’s more is that the Nikola Motor Company says it will provide 1 million miles worth of hydrogen fuel free of charge to those driving the semis. That’s a value proposition in and of itself.
- Lastly, the Nikola Motor Company also estimates that there’s less maintenance necessary on its hydrogen-electric truck compared to conventional semis. In fact, the company states that maintenance costs about six cents per mile, which is half of what the maintenance is estimated at on a conventional diesel truck.
As you can see, the Nikola One has the potential to be a huge game-changer for the trucking industry. And while the Nikola One model is getting all the interest right now, the company is also hard at work developing the Nikola Two, a hydrogen-electric day cab.
According to the Commercial Carrier Journal, electric truck sales are projected to increase by as much as 1,000 percent over the next decade. It appears that the Nikola One is out in front of the rest of the competition when it comes to getting things started.