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July 30, 2020 5:00 PM, EDT

Nikola’s Trevor Milton Says Future of Trucking Is Hydrogen-Based

Trevor MiltonNikola's Trevor Milton in 2019. (Nikola Motor Co.)

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Nikola Corp. founder and Executive Chairman Trevor Milton believes the hydrogen fuel cell technology that powers his company’s trucks can place Nikola at the forefront of global efforts to toughen clean-air rules while also providing a truck that meets the needs of commercial fleets.

“When I built Nikola, I wanted to build a truck that would actually create a desire for people to move away from diesel with better performance, better efficiency. That’s what’s going to convert people away from diesel to zero-emissions,” he said July 28 during an appearance on Transport Topics’ Newsmakers program.

That said, Milton believes that movement by governments around the world during the next 10 to 15 years to take diesel-powered trucks off the road will also drive the shift toward zero-emission vehicles.

Newsmakers host Dan Ronan

Transport Topics introduces its newest digital interview series, Newsmakers, aimed at helping leaders in trucking and freight transportation navigate turbulent times. Audience members will gain access to the industry's leading expert in their particular field and the thoughtful moderation of a Transport Topics journalist. Our second episode — "The Evolution of Electric Trucks" — featured Nikola founder and executive chairman Trevor Milton. To view the replay, complete this form.

“Governments are going to ban diesel altogether; it’s coming,” he said. “The world follows each other. Europe has already done it, and the U.S. is in the process of it right now.”

The European Union is mandating a 15% interim cut in CO2 emissions from trucks by 2025 and a 30% cut by 2030. In the U.S., California will require up to 9% of trucks sold in that state by 2024 to be zero-emission. Milton says efforts like these will help propel adoption of zero-emission trucks, but he notes that the trucks must also meet customers’ needs.

“If you can create a truck that can pass a diesel on a 6% grade, going faster, and it’s all silent and it’s fun, that’s what’s going to convert people away from diesel zero-emissions,” he said. “My desire is to give them a truck that is so much more fun, so much more powerful and safe. I don’t want to force someone to drive a zero-emission truck.”

Nikola earlier this month broke ground on a 1 million-square-foot electric truck production factory in Coolidge, Ariz., about an hour outside of Phoenix. The company will build both Class 8 Nikola Tre and consumer-facing Badger pickup trucks there.

Milton says the Badger truck will compete head-to-head with Ford’s popular F-150, the Dodge Ram and Tesla’s Cybertruck, and believes there is a strong business case for entering the pickup truck segment.

“One of the only automotive programs that has ever been profitable through the history of the automotive industry has been the Ford F-150,” he said. “Regardless of what the market does it is a profitable segment.”

With all of the promise he sees for hydrogen, Milton admits that building a nationwide network of fueling stations will be a challenge. His business plan calls for 700 stations to be constructed by 2028 from coast to coast. His pricing strategy is to bundle truck, fuel and maintenance expenses into a single long-term lease.

Nikola Tre

Nikola's Tre model truck, which is scheduled to go into production at the Arizona plant in 2021. (Nikola Corp.)

“Over the next 10 years, we will have complete coverage in the United States,” he said. “When you buy a Nikola truck, we get the money for the truck, and we also get the life of the truck’s fuel revenue. We make five times more revenue than our competitors per truck we sell. And that’s why Nikola’s valuation today is around $13 or $14 billion.”

He added, “We’ve controlled the chicken and the egg. We’re all about zero emissions, and our competitors will fuel at our networks. We’re really an energy company that happens to sell cool vehicles.”

Nikola became a publicly traded company in March after merging with a publicly listed, special-purpose acquisition company called VectoIQ Acquisition Corp. Nikola is now traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol NKLA.

With the company’s growth there has also come criticism, including some from Tesla Founder and CEO Elon Musk, whose company is readying an all-electric Class 8 truck. But Milton realizes that criticism comes with the territory.

 

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“It’s kind of fun. I kind of eat it up. They’re relentless,” he said. “Anyone who has ever been in this position, I mean, sometimes I get 10,000 messages a day from people that hate you and despise you. You have to learn not to let it get to you. You have to learn to feed off of it. That’s OK.”

He added, “With those critics come people who are reasonable. I like to deal with the reasonable people in the world.”

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