Nikola – a hydrogen-powered Tesla

Refuse
Refuse, © Nikola

US manufacturer Nikola is the company currently making the most waves in the nascent hydrogen market, emerging as another success story similar to Tesla‘s. Its critics, however, consider the Phoenix-based would-be truck maker to be just as overrated as its competitor from Fremont, as it has yet to deliver on most of its promises.

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The fundamental difference between Nikola and Tesla is probably that Trevor Milton, Nikola Motor Company‘s founder, seems not as dogmatic as Tesla‘s chief executive Elon Musk. While Musk is fully committed to advancing all-electric vehicles and regularly makes fun of fuel cells, Milton takes a much more pragmatic stance, aiming to offer battery as well as fuel cell trucks.

But aside from that, the resemblance is hard to overlook. Not only are both companies named after physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla, who died on Jan. 7, 1943, they also pursue similar marketing strategies. Not unlike Tesla, which began building an infrastructure at the same time that it introduced its first electric cars, Nikola is planning to install numerous hydrogen fueling stations.

Its USD 30 million agreement with Nel about the delivery of electrolyzers is a first step toward that goal. At first, five different sites will get one alkaline electrolyzer each, to produce 8 tons of hydrogen per day. Jon André Løkke, Nel’s chief executive, said that since launching the partnership in 2017, Nikola and Nel “have been working together to develop a massive large-scale hydrogen fueling station.” He added that the “framework agreement was one of the key triggers for deciding to develop our alkaline electrolyzer mega-factory in Norway,” from where Nikola will get its stationary units.

The stations envisioned by Nikola would need to be a lot larger than typical car fueling sites, which have a price tag of ‘only’ EUR 1 million. The company has estimated that bigger stations to fill up over 200 hydrogen trucks would cost USD 16.6 million, an investment that it intends to write off over 21 years.

IPO starts off with a bang

Another similarity between Nikola and Tesla is their stock price, which many analysts regard as not matching up to reality. But while Tesla has been stirring up Wall Street for some time, Nikola just recently had its IPO, which saw the start-up business becoming a public company by purchasing control of Nasdaq-listed VectoIQ Acquisition Corporation (VTIQ; see H2-international, August 2020) in a move known as a reverse merger. On June 4, the stock then began trading under the NKLA symbol. At the time, Mark Russell replaced Milton as chief executive, whereas Milton, who founded Nikola Corporation in Arizona in 2015, became its executive chairman, intending to see the company grow in his new role.

“This has been an incredible journey for Nikola Corporation. We started in our basement six years ago and now we are kicking off this 1 million-square-foot [93,000 m2] manufacturing facility.”

Trevor Milton, Nikola’s founder

Manufacturing in Coolidge and Ulm

Reportedly, the company’s Tre will be made by Iveco, which formed a joint venture with Nikola for exactly this purpose. Iveco’s parent company, CNH Industrial, is investing around EUR 40 million in an entirely new assembly line in Ulm, where until 2012, it had put together Iveco Magirus Stralis vans. Gerrit Marx, chief executive of Iveco, explained that in the first stage, the joint venture will “focus on 6×2 tractors [editor’s note: tractors with six tires, two of which are powered], especially for the US market, and the popular 4×2 version for Europe, with batteries that allow the trucks to go between 186 miles (300 kilometers) and 249 miles (400 kilometers) on a single charge and provide them with nearly 350 kilowatts of output via one electric axle. A fuel cell truck will be available later on, as a long-distance option, giving vehicles twice the range.” Initially, Nikola expected to roll out the Tre in 2021 to generate the revenue that has been missing so far. But because of Covid-19, delays may be inevitable.

read more in H2-international October 2020

written: August 26th, 2020

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