Fuel Cell Truck Startup Nikola Corp Announces its Model Lineup
Hydrogen fuel cell truck developer Nikola Corp announced its model lineup on Tuesday which includes a truck with a driving range of 900 miles.
The company's fuel cell lineup includes a hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) variant of Nikola's TRE Cabover and the Nikola Two FCEV Sleeper, a long-haul truck for the North American market.
The company's TRE battery-electric vehicle (BEV) variant currently covers up to 300 miles.
The Nikola TRE is designed for the European market and integrates Nikola's advanced electric powertrain technology. The zero-emissions TRE truck will feature a modular battery system with a total capacity of up to 720 kWh, which can be customized to match different customer needs.
It was designed in a joint venture with Italian truck maker Iveco. The Nikola TRE is based on the IVECO S-WAY, a heavy-duty truck launched in 2018 for Europe.
Nikola said the fuel-cell version of the TRE cabover will follow the launch of North American production of the Tre battery-powered truck.
The electric powertrain can deliver 480 kW Continuous Power Output. The TRE will also be available in 2- and 3-axle rigid versions, with a GVWR from 18 to 26 tons.
Nikola said its Tre FCEV Cabover is targeted for distances up to 500 miles, while the long-haul sleeper version would allow for a non-stop range of up to 900 miles. The long-haul version could be available as early as 2024, Nikola said.
Nikola Corp launched its U.S. IPO in June 2020 in a reverse merger deal with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) VectoIQ Acquisition Corp, a company started by former General Motors Vice Chairman Steve Girksy. New York-based VectoIQ focused on startups developing technologies such as autonomous vehicles, smart mobility and electrification.
The IPO valued Nikola at roughly $20 billion as the stock more than doubled in the days after it became a public company.
However three months later the company's CEO and founder Trevor Milton was accused of misleading investors about the company's proprietary fuel cell powertrain, which Nikola said was developed in-house.
Nikola's problems began when well known short seller Hindenburg Research published a scathing report about the company just after U.S. automaker General Motors announced a $2 billion investment in Sept 2020, which included building Nikola's Badger fuel cell pickup truck.
Hindenburg Research collected evidence to show Nikola's CEO Milton made false claims about the company's proprietary hydrogen fuel cell technology in order to form partnerships with large automakers, which is exactly what lured GM to invest $2 billion in the company.
Analysts criticized GM after its investment for not doing the appropriate due diligence in Nikola, although GM said it had.
Hindenburg Research said it gathered extensive evidence, which included recorded phone calls, text messages, private emails and behind-the-scenes photographs detailing dozens of false statements by Nikola founder Milton.
Among the evidence are leaked photos of Nikola's fuel cell components, including a power inverter, which the company said were developed in-house, with black tape hiding the interver's manufacturer, which was actually German supplier Bosch.
"We have never seen this level of deception at a public company, especially of this size," Hindenburg's report warned potential investors.
Nikola also shared a misleading promotional video of one of its trucks traveling down the highway presumably under its own power. However, employees and other insiders said that the truck was a prototype without a working fuel cell powertrain. For the video, Nikola filmed the truck rolling downhill, which was intended to show that it was operating under its own power.
CEO Milton was pressured to resign from the company in Sept 2020 over the incidents.
As a result, GM announced its was giving up its equity stake in Nikola on Nov 30 and the company's stock price fell by around 75% at one point from their post IPO highs as investors dumped their shares.
However Nikola is working to get back on track under the leadership of its new CEO Mark Russell. Although GM won't be building the Badger pickup as planned, the automaker says it will work with Nikola to supply hydrogen fuel cells for its heavy-duty trucks.
Nikola signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GM for a global supply agreement integrating its Hydrotec fuel-cell system into Nikola's commercial semi-trucks.
Under the terms of the MOU, Nikola and GM will work together to integrate GM's fuel-cell technology into Nikola's Class 7 and Class 8 zero-emission semi-trucks for the medium- and long-haul trucking sectors.
"This is better than what it was because it gets us back to what is most important to both of us, which is fuel cells," Nikola's chief executive, Mark Russell, said in an interview.
"We believe fuel-cells will become increasingly important to the semi-truck market, as they are more efficient than gas or diesel and are lightweight compared to batteries for long hauls. By working with GM, we are reinforcing our companies' shared commitment to a zero-emission future," said Russell.
The first TRE prototype is set to enter production in the second quarter, with testing and validation continuing into 2022, Nikola said. Production of the TRE will start in the second half of 2023 at Nikola's facility in Coolidge, Arizona and Iveco's facility in Ulm, Germany.
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