Meet Nikola: The Tesla of Semi-Trucks
Ian Wright posted on June 15, 2016 |
The Nikola One. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
The Nikola One. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
When it comes to the future of transportation, it seems like all we ever hear these days is “Tesla, Tesla, Tesla.”

It’s a testament to the power of the company’s marketing that Tesla routinely takes the spotlight over competing electric vehicles (EVs) from veteran automotive manufacturers, like the Chevrolet Bolt.

At its peak, the Model 3 reached nearly 400,000 pre-orders--although more recent reports suggest that number has dropped to 373,000. The deposits are refundable and at USD$1,000 for a reservation, that still translates to $373 million for Tesla.

Meanwhile, a lesser-known vehicle manufacturer has quietly raked in $2.3 billion in pre-sales in the first month alone. Meet Nikola Motor Company, no doubt named for the famous Serbian-American inventor—I guess his last name was already taken.


The Nikola One

The trucks use 800V AC motors powered by 320kWh lithium-ion batteries to run their 6x6 all-wheel drive.  They also employ WABCO air disc front and rear brakes, both with regenerative electric motor braking.

Concept of the Nikola One interior. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
Concept of the Nikola One interior. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
According to the company, the Nikola One offers 2,000 HP, 3,700 ft-lbs of torque and a range of 800-1,200 miles. “Our technology is 10-15 years ahead of any other OEM in fuel efficiencies, MPG and emissions,” said Trevor Milton, founder and CEO of Nikola Motor Company. “We are the only OEM to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 pounds.” 

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Nikola One is not its technology, but its leasing program, which costs $4,000 to $5,000 per month, depending on the truck configuration and additional options customers choose.

What’s more, scheduled maintenance and the first million miles of fuel—more on that below—are included for the first 25,000 reservations, offsetting the entire monthly cost of the truck for those customers. That’s based on the company’s estimates of the average diesel semi, which it claims burns approximately $400,000 in fuel and accumulates $100,000 in maintenance costs over a million miles of driving.


An “Electric” Semi-Truck

The natural question to ask in the face of such startling figures is, “Where is all this free fuel coming from?”

Initially, we wondered whether Nikola would be installing charging stations for customers, or providing their own charging hubs. As it turns out, the answer is neither.

Although the trucks are marketed as being electric, their batteries are charged by a turbine, which Nikola describes as “fuel agnostic” meaning that it can be ordered in multiple versions: diesel, gasoline or natural gas.

Nikola will ship liquid natural gas from its wells to its stations for storage and compression using its own semi-trucks. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
Nikola will ship liquid natural gas from its wells to its stations for storage and compression using its own semi-trucks. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
The company has stated that it plans to open at least 55 compressed natural gas (CNG) stations across North America. Nikola has built the $.50 per gallon federal credit for CNG station owners into the price of the truck, which is how the company can afford to give customers free fuel for the first million miles.

Nikola owns several natural gas wells, which the company intends to use to supply its CNG stations by shipping liquid natural gas (LNG) on Nikola trucks for on-site compression and storage. This allows the company to strictly control fuel prices for its customers.


The Tesla of Semi-Trucks?

The Nikola One will not be unveiled officially until December 2, 2016, which makes its $2.8-billion pre-sale figure all the more impressive. However, although comparisons with Tesla are inevitable, Nikola would do well to avoid emulating the electric car maker too closely.

Map of proposed Nikola CNG station locations in the US and Canada. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
Map of proposed Nikola CNG station locations in the US and Canada. (Image courtesy of Nikola Motor Company.)
Elon Musk is notorious for over-promising and underestimating the time it takes to reach the goals he sets out. Like Apple, Tesla’s strength lies in marketing its products much more than in manufacturing them. Could Nikola Motor Company be making a similar mistake? This quote from its founder and CEO should tell you all you need to know:

“We believe we will pass the current market leaders like Daimler, PACCAR, Volvo and Navistar in sales orders within the next 12-24 months. Just image the orders that will come in once we begin taking dealer applications. We have shown other OEMs and their shareholders why they should be nervous about Nikola Motor Company.”

Sound familiar?

For more information, visit the Nikola Motor Company website.

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