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March 27, 2017 3:00 AM, EDT

Nikola Sets Blueprint for 2020 Launch of Zero-Emissions, Hydrogen Class 8s

Kaitlynn Scheidler/Keep Sake Photography & Design

This story appears in the March 27 print edition of Transport Topics.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Nikola Motor Co. is in discussion with the three largest truck stop operators to offer hydrogen fuel and, separately, with seven states interested in being home to its production facility as it prepares to launch in mid-2020 its zero emissions, hydrogen-electric Class 8 truck, a company executive said.

Other milestones include beginning to road test the truck in mid-2018. Throughout 2019, it will work to develop its sales and service program, which will be handled exclusively by Ryder System.

The first trucks will be available in mid-2020 after being assembled by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, an early investor in Nikola that will make the first 5,000 trucks. By 2021, Nikola hopes to be delivering trucks that are built in its own assembly plant, Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Spira said here March 21 at the ACT Research Co. spring seminar.

Also, Salt Lake City-based Nikola is raising $110 million in additional financing from primarily “strategic and institutional investors” and intends to secure $500 million to $750 million at the end of 2018 to support the development of its production and hydrogen facilities, Spira said.

Calling its Nikola One truck a revolutionary vehicle, Spira said, “From where I sit, there is little differentiation between the [existing Class 8] products from the various manufacturers.”

Toyota Motor Co., however, is working on a Class 8 hydrogen-fueled, electric hybrid vehicle similar to Nikola’s, he said.

“That is a process we fully support. We would like to see other manufacturers follow suit,” Spira said.

All of the truck makers have products under way with various hybrid configurations on their trucks, he said, including some drayage trucks in Southern California ports.

Also, Daimler Trucks, the parent company of Daimler Trucks North America, probably is the furthest along in Europe in developing a working, heavy-duty electric box truck. “And they are getting good results from that,” Spira said.

“Ideally, we would like to be early in the market, but we don’t want to be the only player in the market,” he said.

The alternative-fuel market for hydrogen would benefit from the manufacturing expertise and the infrastructure the rest of the truck makers have at their disposal, he said.

“I think it will take some time for them to convert over their manufacturing capabilities to build vehicles of this type and scale. But we are hoping that they get there,” Spira said.

So far, Nikola has reservations for more than 8,000 sleeper trucks and day cabs worth more than $4 billion, and projects operating costs for these vehicles will be more than 30% lower than a comparable diesel-powered sleeper cab, he said.

Nikola also is negotiating with Alabama, California, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah for its first production plant.

“A few of the states are offering some significant incentives for us to locate our production facility there,” Spira said. “That would potentially give us as much as $300 million to $400 million in incentives. That would follow our own spending to develop the production facility.”

Other than that, no other government funds are needed in its business plan, he added.

At the same time, marking a change from the prototype truck introduced in December, the first Nikola One trucks will not come with a 6-by-6 drive configuration like the prototype has, he said. “It may be available down the road for vocational trucks.”

Meanwhile, the company appears to have stepped back from its plan to produce and sell all the necessary hydrogen fuel.

“We don’t plan to develop hydrogen fueling stations from scratch,” Spira said. “Rather, we are going to partner with one of the largest nationwide truck stop operators, and also experienced hydrogen producers.”

Specifically, networks such as those operated by Pilot Flying J, Travel- Centers of America or Love’s Travel Stops. “I think Trevor Milton [Nikola’s founder] has spoken with some of them already,” Spira told Transport Topics after the session.

“They’d like to get our trucks [in their networks],” he said. “Our particular business model means our trucks will provide the demand for the hydrogen so we can make sure those stations are sufficiently utilized.”

Nikola intends to roll out the fueling infrastructure gradually in markets where it has pre-sold at least 250 to 500 trucks, Spira said, and it hopes to have a coast-to-coast network within five years afterward.

Nikola will start to develop a fueling facility in Utah this year to test and validate its filling systems, he said.

“It will also give us the opportunity to set up the first hydrogen fueling station for passenger vehicles in Salt Lake City,” he said.