Startup Nikola Motor Company is going all-in on hydrogen — with a little electricity to go along for the ride.
Hydrogen-fuelled vehicles have electric motors just like plug-in EVs. But the big difference is that for hydrogen vehicles, a fuel cell generates the electricity that powers the electric motors. Plug-in electric vehicles, like the Tesla Model S, come with a lithium-ion battery pack that keeps the car moving.
That’s a fairly simplistic overview, as hydrogen-electric vehicles often come with smaller batteries that aren’t used for general propulsion, but higher-performance demands. The general idea, however, is that hydrogen-powered vehicles rely primarily on the fuel cells for their main power.
Still, hydrogen-powered vehicles have been criticised. While they can deliver longer range and shorter refuelling times than electric vehicles, the difficulty of making hydrogen and setting up a hydrogen-fuelling infrastructure is a major drawback.
But Nikola Motor Company revealed its plan to overcome those hurdles and make its truck a reality. Scroll down for a closer look:
Behold, the Nikola One hydrogen-powered truck. The startup claims it can get a range of 1,200 miles. For reference, the electric truck Mercedes plans to produce in the next decade has a range of 124 miles, though it is intended for shorter city commutes.
Because the Mercedes electric truck was designed for urban commutes, it's more limited when it comes to range. But generally speaking, a range surpassing 300 miles is currently unheard of for electric vehicles. Only the Tesla Model S P100D surpasses the 300-mile mark.
Hydrogen-electric vehicles, meanwhile, are known to boast ranges topping 400 miles.
The Nikola One will be powered by a stack of hydrogen fuel cells, as well as a 320 kWh battery, to achieve its range. The startup said it will have over 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 ft.-lb. of torque.
Nikola One first said in May that it was building an electric semitruck with a natural gas turbine as an online generator. In August, the start-up announced it would build trucks powered by a hydrogen fuel cell to achieve zero emissions, as seen on Thursday.
Nikola Motor Company said the truck will have a refuelling time of just 15 minutes, edging out plug-in EVs that take at least an hour to charge when using a fast-charging network. With a typical outlet, a plug-in EV can take many hours to recharge.
Nikola CEO Trevor Milton said at the event the truck will be equipped with cameras to provide panoramic views.
The startup is officially taking reservations on its website Friday, though Milton said it has already received $4 billion-worth in reservations for the truck. Nikola is preparing to begin deliveries in 2020.
A big factor determining Nikola Motor Company's success will be its ability to set up a hydrogen station infrastructure to support the trucks when they are out on the road. Below is a map of the 364 hydrogen stations the startup plans to build beginning in 2018, with completion slated for late 2019.
Nikola said it will build solar farms to power electrolysis plants that will make the hydrogen. The startup will then transport the hydrogen to its refuelling stations.
Nikola is offering a leasing program for its trucks. Drivers can get a Nikola One for $5,000 to $7,000 a month, depending on the type of truck they want, for 72 months or a million miles. The hydrogen fuel is covered by the lease.
Nikola also introduced a system called 'Nikola Shipments,' where freight brokers upload what cargo they need picked up. Independent drivers can then choose to pick up freight and customise a route based on the different stops they wants to make.
Milton referred to the system as an Uber for the trucking industry because drivers can customise a route based on the different stops they want to make. The freight brokers can then review the drivers based on how reliable they were.
The trucks will come with 21-inch display screens that will show the Nikola Shipments system.