Nikola Adding Efficiency And Automation to Hydrogen Semi-Truck

Nikola Motor Co. says its hydrogen and battery powered Class 8 semi-truck is being improved as it hires with more employees to bring it to production.

Founder Trevor Milton told that the Nikola One revealed in December at its Salt Lake City headquarters will shaving weight to make it about 2,000 pounds lighter than a diesel semi, and it will offer an automated driving mode.

The company plans increase its staff and move to a larger production facility. Milton said that a dozen new employees have been hired since the December launch. The number will be tripled in the next four months, bringing the employee count to over 100. Much the development work is being outsourced to support the Nikola team’s efforts and timetable.

A new, 1.5 million square-foot manufacturing plant is to be revealed in the next couple of months. It will need relocation from the current facility and will utilize robotic manufacturing, the chief executive said.

Land rights are being secured now for its landmark network of hydrogen fueling stations. The company said that it’s finalizing land rights on the first eight of the eventual 376 nationwide fueling stations.

The company made an impressive claim back in December – the truck will be able to travel 800 to 1,200 miles carrying a full 65,000-pound load before having to stop at a hydrogen station. Refueling could be done in just 15 minutes.

The Nikola One is a Class 8 electric hydrogen hybrid semi-truck with a 300 kilowatt fuel cell and a 320 kWh battery bank. Lighweighting the truck is going to help make the range even longer.

“In the trucking world, that’s like the holy grail,” Milton said. “We’ve spent a lot of money and time – the last seven months – on carbon fiber engineering, running a lot of simulation models.”

Each system operating the truck, including steering and electric, will be able to go into autonomous mode. There will also be a backup manual system for drivers to take over.

Another design change is making the front cab wider than what was shown in the prototype model, to give drivers more room inside. It will have two doors instead of one so that drivers can enter from either side of the cab.

Milton said that the Nikola One received over 8,000 reservations – more than expected, and enough to put pre-orders on hold.

That commitment also helped Nikola Motor bring in a $110 million funding round, reaching a total valuation of $1.5 billion.

The truck maker is currently conducting testing in controlled environments. It hopes to gain permits for live stress testing by mid-2018. That would be followed by three years of extreme weather condition tests.

By late next year, Nikola will be sending the hydrogen hybrid truck to fleets for test runs under varying driving conditions.

Limited production of the first trucks will start in October 2020 and full production is slated for 2021, Milton said.

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Nikola will see competition with more hydrogen-powered and electrified trucks coming out.

Toyota launched a Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell drayage truck test project with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in April. Last month, truck maker Kenworth announced its plan to launch a similar truck by the end of the year.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed a teaser image of its electric semi-truck during a TED talk in April. The unveiling will take place in September, Musk later said.

Milton isn’t worried about it.

“This is the big one people are asking a lot of questions about,” he said. “Our range is 800-plus miles, while theirs is 200 to 300. And ours requires a 15-minute fill-up time, while theirs needs a four- to eight-hour charge or a battery swap every 200 to 300 miles.”

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