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April 28, 2022 1:21 PM, EDT

Nikola Sees Energy Transition in Arizona Desert

Company Produces Tre Trucks
NikolaA Nikola Tre BEV. (Roger Gilroy/Transport Topics)

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COOLIDGE, Ariz. — Several customers’ recently completed Nikola Tre Class 8 battery-electric trucks sat ready for delivery inside Nikola Corp.’s new assembly plant, a scene described by company executives as a watershed moment since the white cabover BEVs will generate 7-year-old Nikola’s first-ever quarterly revenue.

Generating revenue is the biggest step for any pre-revenue startup, said Nikola Corp. CEO Mark Russell, who noted everything the company has spent so far was raised from investors.

“It’s a great day that we have been looking forward to for a long time,” he said during an April 27 plant tour that marked the start of commercial serial truck production.

Battery Production

An electric battery pack in production at the Arizona facility. (Roger Gilroy/Transport Topics)

“It’s nothing short of astounding that we have come this far,” Russell added. “We are finally going to get paid. Today marks the day we transition to customer deliveries. We will be a revenue-producing company, and will be forever more.”

Inside the long, new facility where Nikola on March 31 launched initial production of the Tre were 14 stations and 64 employees assembling the trucks — working on wiring harnesses, battery packs, cabs, axles and hundreds of other parts. Roughly two or three dozen more toiled behind a large black curtain on computer work related to fuel cells.

Several units were in various stages of completion, but six were ready to go to fleet customers including TTSI, Saia, Univar Solutions, Covenant, Avant Garde and Biagi Bros.

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was on hand for the event, along with fleet customers, government officials, business leaders and the media.

Ducey said Nikola is “a driving force in Arizona’s growing electric vehicle industry. Designing and building an electric truck factory from scratch is no small task. Nikola has demonstrated extraordinary determination in pursuit of that vision.”

Ducey mentioned Atlis Motor Vehicles, Lucid Motors, ElectraMeccanica and Zero Electric Vehicles among other companies in the state focused on vehicle electrification. In the battery supply chain segment are Kore Power, LG Energy Solution and Li-Cycle.

“The future of mobility is emissions-free,” said Nikola Motor President Michael Lohscheller. “And we have exactly the right product here and now to do this. When you look around the world, more and more cities are saying ‘only electric trucks or cars are allowed to enter.’ " 

A joint venture plant in Ulm, Germany, with truck maker Iveco is also ready to go. “The production line here mirrors the one there, but this one will have more capacity,” Russell said, noting Nikola shifted the initial focus to North America from Europe because it was more suited to the Tre’s range of up to 350 miles with a 750 kilowatt battery.

Nikola expects to build 300-500 Tre BEVs in 2022 at the Coolidge plant for dealers and customers, with an initial annual production capacity of 2,500 trucks.

With initial construction of 290,000 square feet completed, Nikola said the next phase of the facility’s expansion — which will add another 150,000 square feet — is underway and set for completion in 2023. Nikola said production capacity upon completion of that phase will be up to 20,000 trucks per year across two shifts.

After two more planned expansion phases, the overall plant when complete will be 1 million square feet.

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Nikola, which is based in Phoenix 55 miles to the north, owns 430 acres of land in rural Coolidge, just off I-10. A neighbor has pinto and brown horses corralled down the road, and treeless brown mountains stretch along the horizon. Also nearby are huge cotton and alfalfa farms. It is an austere locale for Nikola’s sweeping vision for ‘green’ emissions-free trucking, including, coming soon, hydrogen fuel cell trucks.

Russell said Nikola will be adding the fuel cell version of the Nikola Tre based on the same platform, or skateboard, in 2023. The truck will have a longer range than the battery-powered truck.

“The trucks are the important piece of the puzzle, and the most visible one. But what we are really about here is an energy transition,” Russell said. “These trucks are uniquely suited to be able to use renewable energy because they can be charged — and we’d like them to be able to be charged quickly — and charge them as much as possible with energy that came from renewable sources. We are in the middle of one of the best solar energy places in the world.”

He noted hydrogen is the most energy-dense fuel on the planet. “We could make hydrogen using that renewable energy, too,” Russell said.

Nikola Motor Co. was established in 2015. It went public in June 2020 after VectoIQ Acquisition Corp.’s stockholders voted in favor of the previously announced business combination with that company.