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January 16, 2019 9:45 AM, EST

Nikola Moves Closer to Marketing Hydrogen-Electric Trucks

Nikola's Trevor Milton Nikola's Trevor Milton spoke with TT in an exclusive interview Jan. 8 during CES. (Nikola Motor Co.)

LAS VEGAS — Nikola Motor Co. founder and CEO Trevor Milton said two key customers — private fleet Anheuser-Busch Cos. and truckload carrier U.S. Xpress Enterprises — will begin fleet tests of Nikola’s zero-emisssions hydrogen-electric Class 8 trucks by the end of the year, as the first shoots of the necessary fueling infrastructure are emerging in Phoenix.

Milton spoke with Transport Topics in an exclusive interview here Jan. 8 during CES, the world’s largest technology event.

“I wanted to redesign everything from the ground up. I can’t do that if I keep a lot of the same stuff that is on trucks right now,” Milton said. “We are just lucky that we started a long time ago so we are ahead of everyone. We developed our own fuel cell, our own batteries — they are more energy dense than any other battery on the market in the world.”

Nikola’s battery is almost 400 watt-hours per liter, he said, calling that 50% to 70% more energy dense than rival batteries.

Its 240-kilowatt fuel cell is the biggest he knows of, and there are two on board his Class 8 trucks.

Andrew Lund, chief engineer in the product development office at Toyota Motor North America Inc., told TT he wished Nikola well.

“They are a very interesting company. Certainly they are going to produce heavy-duty trucks. So in one way they are competitors. But I view them as more of a partner in, really, growing hydrogen infrastructure. Their announced plan is to build hydrogen stations across North America. I would want them to be successful because that would bring about the hydrogen society that Toyota has believed in for so many years.”

Nikola's truck, branded by Anheuser-Busch

Anheuser-Busch Cos. is one of two fleets testing the Nikola One. (Nikola Motor Co.)

Milton said his company plans to build 700 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States over the next seven years.

The first 14 stations will be up and running by 2021, according to the company, which is based in Phoenix, where two stations are being built and each of which will produce more than 1,000 kilograms of hydrogen.

“Then we go to stations that produce 24,000 kilograms a day. We focus mainly on dominating the hydrogen-production side, and the truck is a catalyst to drive the cost of the hydrogen down. Our hope is we can share stations with Daimler or others that are interested, like Hyundai,” Milton said.

In September, Hyundai Motor Co., in cooperation with H2 Energy, will provide 1,000 hydrogen-electric heavy-duty electric trucks to the Swiss commercial vehicle market, to be delivered beginning this year through 2023. News reports said the South Korean truck maker could bring its hydrogen trucks to the United States.

A day-cab version of the Nikola truck for North America plus its flat-face, heavy-duty truck intended for the European market will be on display April 16-17 in Phoenix during an event the company calls Nikola World.

“That’s when the whole world gets to see the production truck, a beautiful, stunning truck,” Milton said. “So what we have done now is proven out that the truck works, the components function together, the aerodynamics of the truck work. The cab, the body, all that’s done. That’s the hardest part. It took five years to do, to actually make all the systems fully function together.”

As of early January, 2,500 people had reserved to attend the event, he said.

At the same time, Milton said he is looking forward to competing against the North American arm of Daimler Trucks, the world’s largest truck maker.

Daimler Trucks North America is the leader in Class 8 U.S. retail sales.

“They have their own fuel cell, although they have tens of billions of dollars invested in diesel so they can’t scrap it. They have to transition out of [diesel] over 10 years. They will be right there alongside of us,” Milton said. “Once we do it and prove it, and they see the model working, Daimler will come right in. But there is enough room. I actually welcome it. When Daimler comes in, the world takes notice and they know it’s legit.”

Kenworth Truck Co., a unit of Paccar Inc., and Toyota announced at CES they are collaborating to develop 10 hydrogen-electric tractors for drayage operations in the Los Angeles basin — with Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell technology going into Kenworth’s T680 trucks.

Milton referred to the effort as “research and development.”

Nikola has about 11,000 orders for its truck.

U.S. Xpress Enterprises ranks No. 21 on TT’s Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America. Anheuser-Busch Cos. ranks No. 65 on the Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.