Tesla Blazed the Trail, and Nikola follows..

February 11, 2020

Yet another entrant in the EV cyber trucking sweepstakes.
The Nikola pickups feature hybrid battery/fuel cell power plants, with some eye-popping, if real, performance claims..

The Verge:

Nikola Corporation, an Arizona-based startup that’s working on zero-emission big rigs, just announced that it’s following Tesla, Rivian, Ford, and General Motors into the electric pickup market with a truck called the Badger.

The Badger is a fuel cell vehicle first and foremost, meaning it takes hydrogen from a refillable tank and converts it into electricity to power the motors. But the Badger will also come with an onboard auxiliary battery pack Nikola says will be big enough to power the pickup on its own. 

That’s similar to the approach Nikola is taking with its big rigs; with those, the company is prioritizing hydrogen-powered trucks but will also sell battery-only versions with less overall range for shorter-haul trucking. In fact, the pickup truck is apparently powered by a scaled-down version of the tech that Nikola developed for its big commercial trucks.

“Nikola has billions worth of technology in our semi-truck program, so why not build it into a pickup truck?” Trevor Milton, Nikola’s CEO and founder, said in a statement. “I have been working on this pickup program for years and believe the market is now ready for something that can handle a full day’s worth of work without running out of energy.”

This isn’t the first time Nikola has teased expanding beyond commercial trucks. Just last year, the company announced an electric personal watercraft and an off-road utility vehicle. Milton is promising some eye-popping specs for the Badger, including up to 600 miles of range with a full tank of hydrogen and up to 300 miles of range on battery power alone. The Badger is supposed to be able to generate over 900 horsepower and go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.9 seconds.

A hydrogen-powered truck with a battery that big would help hedge against the most pressing problem facing fuel cell vehicles: there’s currently almost no supporting infrastructure whatsoever. Hydrogen filling stations are extremely rare; in the US, they’re almost exclusively located in California. Having a battery pack that can last for 300 miles would help an owner get by if they’re not located near a hydrogen fueling station or, at worst, until there are more filling stations.

Unsurprisingly, Nikola is planning to build out hundreds of hydrogen stations of its own to help support its big rig business. By the time the Badger hits the road, then, it’s possible that the infrastructure piece of the equation might not look so bleak.

25 Responses to “Tesla Blazed the Trail, and Nikola follows..”

  1. Robert L. Schmidt Says:

    Gee, sounds like such a great idea. Build a vehicle that has less access to its fuel source than any other vehicle in existence. Sounds very promising.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Let’s hope the industry will develop a common standard for H2 stations.

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Swell, another company making 0-60 in 2.9 second vehicles for $80K, as well as “electric personal watercraft”—stay tuned for the airplane next!

    • sailrick Says:

      i also would rather see a vehicle that gets you where you’re going and is able to keep up on the freeway. That’s all I ask, and can afford.

      However, there is a certain logic in starting with high priced hot rod models. The first people to buy something new are those wealthy enough to afford it, and have a desire for such a car. Those first buyers get the ball rolling. Tesla did the same. It’s how personal computers got off the ground, eventually becoming cheap enough at the lower end of the market for most people to afford.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Yep, the greedy rich and self-indulgent most certainly DO lead the way as all these “life enhancements” become cheaper and spread downward into the middle classes. What fun for all! Don’t worry about the concomitant resource depletion, pollution, and general destruction of the environment though—-that’s a problem for future generations (and what have they ever done for us?)

  4. redskylite Says:

    I’m very hopeful that Nikola can and will eventually help transform the trucking industry (with others), and will get support and encouragement in introducing the required infrastructure.

    Sailrick has hit the nail on the head with the PC analogy, which started very slowly, with early prototypes, then the IBM model 5150 in the 1980’s, now there is an amazing choice of hardware, smartphones, tablets, notepads, games etc, a huge transformation in a decade or so.

    My household refuse and recycling is collected by electric vehicles and it is common to see EV’s on the road. A slow revolution is indeed unfolding, of course it is not enough to balance our carbon budget, but at least a movement in the correct direction.

    My children have no interest in owning private transportation, and it seems to be a healthy generational trend, (that and a desire to fight climate change). I remember many of my ex-university co-workers and colleagues earnestly avoiding the need for personal transport (other than a bike), by getting a home near to place of work, way back in the 1970’s before climate change was much of an issue. Maybe they foresaw the hole we were digging for ourselves back then.

    “Green transport set to overtake cars in world’s major cities by 2030.

    We are witnessing this trend but we should not just relax and lay back,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    “We should really make sure that the alternatives to a private car are zero-emission, are shared and are attractive at the same time.”


    • redskylite Says:

      Just realised that’s Grant Imahara from “Mythbusters” and “Star Trek Continues”. Well presented video and good to see there is life after the great “Mythbusters” show.

  5. mboli Says:

    And hydrogen comes from steam reformed methane:
    CH₄ + 2H₂0 -> 4H₂ + CO₂
    (There are two steps in that equation, but that is the overall upshot)

    So those hydrogen vehicles are running on fossil fuel.

    Dept. of Energy say this is a net gain — reduced GHG emissions — even though it produces carbon dioxide.

    “… even with the upstream process of producing hydrogen from natural gas as well as delivering and storing it for use in FCEVs, the total greenhouse gas emissions are cut in half and petroleum is reduced over 90% compared to today’s gasoline vehicles.”


    • sailrick Says:

      Hydrogen can also be produced using renewable energy for electrolysis. It can not only be a fuel, but also an energy storage medium, storing the excess power from solar and wind, that utilities can’t always use when it’s generated. It can be relatively short or long term storage. Denmark’s potential for offshore wind turbines would produce more electricity than the country could use. So they are building a small prototype hydrogen storage as a start.
      Maine is considering the prospects as well.

    • redskylite Says:

      There is quite a lot of excitement regarding ammonia as a way of storing and transporting . .. . .

      Missing link for solar hydrogen is… ammonia?


      • redskylite Says:

        “AFC Energy is launching a mobile generator that is powered by hydrogen to replace polluting diesel generators on construction sites.

        The new Hydrogen Power Generators uses an alkaline fuel cell technology that has been developed at AFC Energy’s research facility in Surrey.

        It can be scaled from 20 kW to over 1MW to fit with typical power requirements of construction machinery. The technology can also use ammonia as a feedstock and apply a ‘cracker’ to produce hydrogen on demand to fuel the generator.”


  6. J4Zonian Says:

    Trucks are an inefficient way to transport goods long distances. We need a revitalized rail network, including high speed rail, to hook into local transport hubs with light rail, trucks and jitneys for short runs. Most of this needs to be publicly owned, and very cheap or free so people use it until it’s taken for granted that it’s the only way to move people and things.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      According to Elon Musk’s presentation on the upcoming Tesla semi, three semis traveling closely as a convoy can move merchandise more inexpensively than rail.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Musk is hardly an impartial observer.
        There’s hardly enough experience to say this with any certainty.
        How often is that formation going to happen compared to it not happening?
        How much more efficient can we make trains? By electrifying, for example, and renewablizing?
        Fossil and fissile fuels are less expensive than they would and should be because of subsidies and externalities. Electrify and renewablize rail and then compare.

        Inexpensive has little to do with efficient.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Actually, cost is a pretty darned good way to judge efficiency.

          Musk was talking about electric trains. And remember – when those trains get to the station, their cargo (which needed trucks to deliver the cargo to the loading yard) has to be then transferred again to trucks who then bring it to destinations anyway.

          How often will convoys happen? I don’t know, but if I was in the shipping business I would make it happen as often as possible – the costs savings are huge:

          A single diesel semi full load – $1.51 unit cost, supposedly per mile *

          A single Tesla semi full load: – $1.26

          3 Tesla semi convoy full load (X 3) – $0.85

          * really hard to determine what the true unit costs are for trucks, rail etc. The numbers are all over the place and they use different units. But at least the three above figures indicate relative costs compared to each other

          It costs $2.75 per mile to move a shipping container by rail. (According to a maritime shipper!) Also seen a figure of $0.04 per mile ton in 2017 pricing.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            “A single Tesla semi full load: – $1.26”

            For now that’s a paper fantasy. The long-range Semi will require a very large battery that will likely cut into the maximum gross vehicle weight and Musk’s guarantee of supplying electricity at the still-unrevealed MegaChargers at a guaranteed 7 cents US per kWh sounds impractical.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Musk claims the semi will be the same weight as a diesel truck.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        According to Elon Musk’s presentation on the upcoming Tesla semi, three semis traveling closely as a convoy can move merchandise more inexpensively than rail.

        Roads are publicly funded and maintained, while private railroads have to maintain their own track. How much of the “expense” of using semis for long-distance transport is externalized to the public, with or without weigh stations?

        In any case, with the shift away from liquid fuels, more of the funding for road maintenance has to be based on axle-weight X distance instead of fuel taxes.

  7. Gingerbaker Says:

    The diesel fuel tanks, when full, alone can weigh more than one ton.

    Diesel engine nearly 3000 lbs.

    And Tesla has been testing the semi with full loads, so I imagine they have a pretty good idea what their numbers look like.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Tangent for the lurkers: The standard diesel-electric locomotives used on trains are the original hybrid engines long before the Toyota Prius: Diesel to charge the battery which drives an electric motor with continuous torque shifting.

  8. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    You can see pictures of trucks with solar panels mounted on them. I’d like to see an after-market solar system for semis where the panels can be rolled out and temporarily anchored onto the interchangeable trailers. Those trucks spend a lot of time traveling long, hot, sunny stretches of open highway, and the extra solar power would be great for cooling the cab.


  9. J4Zonian Says:

    “the fewer touch points at transshipment terminals, the lower the cost. It’s about $100 per lift of a container,”

    “For every logistical assessment of shipping, the questions arise: Which is cheaper? Which is faster? Which is more certain to hit delivery dates?”

    “a framework to assess what technologies are likely to win”
    is immaterial. Our reactionary and therefore competition-obsessed society notwithstanding, it doesn’t matter which will win, it matters which is more efficient.

    The only question is which is more ecological. That boils down mostly to which is more efficient, both to build and to transport goods and people. It will be rail, and we need to admit that and make it cheap, fast, and certain enough that it’s the choice. (We need to do the same with high speed rail to replace almost all continental long-distance driving and flying.) Semis would certainly be chosen over our current rail system, which sucks, because it’s been systematically destroyed by corporations and rich people making money from cars. So we need to improve the rail system in every way.

    We do not have autonomous vehicles; technical possibility is neither existence nor social acceptance. And while it will make less difference in trains because they already have lower labor costs, autonomous trains are infinitely easier than a-trucks.

    And drafting trucks? “Daimler has said that its pilots haven’t shown significant enough savings to make it worthwhile.” If you can’t see the likely problems with long-haul drafting, look up “motivated reasoning”.

    The fact that the difference in price is likely to made because of 1 or 2 fewer lifts reinforces what we already knew—that cheap is not the same as efficient. Right now, and for a long time to come, the world needs efficient. We have to do whatever it takes politically to make the efficient, ecological choice what is chosen.

    In fact, every advantage attributed to trucks on roads can also be attributed to or created in rail, while many advantages rail has can only be created on roads at staggering expense, if at all (not having to carry the power source, eg.) It’s our choice. Trains are more efficient than trucks, both to make and run. If we choose trucks anyway, it’s because our efforts to change politics have been unsuccessful and we’re unlikely to succeed on any front and thus unlikely to save civilization.

    Of course there’s a place for e-trucks in a system in which rail overwhelmingly dominates the mileage. Subsidies will determine what it is, ecological reality has to determine the subsidies, and political power will determine whether we respond to reality or delusion.

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