Why does Tesla build tractor units

E-mobility hydrogen: How the Nikola e-truck uses the weaknesses of the competition

After Tesla, the next company is building vehicles in Germany: Nikola wants to get started with electric and hydrogen trucks in Ulm. How Nikola wants to slow down the German truck giants.

The Nikola E-Truck is built in Ulm.

Photo: Nikola Motor

The US startup Nikola discovers the German market and builds Fuel cell truck in Ulm. The truck called "Nikola Tre" will be specially designed for the European market and will be available in a battery-electric and a fuel cell-powered version. The factory of the commercial vehicle manufacturer Iveco in Ulm serves as a production facility. A range of 1,000 kilometers should convince buyers of the pick-up truck. Together, Nikola and the commercial vehicle manufacturer, which is partly owned by the Italian Agnelli clan, want to slow down the truck giants.

This should be achieved through:

  • stringent business model
  • Customers get a significantly lower total cost of ownership
  • quickly available electricity and hydrogen trucks

Battery trucks are supposed to drive Daimler and Co. away

Nikola sees the hesitant behavior of the competition as a clear competitive advantage. Most competitors only electrify their tractor units in small series and also use diesel as their core fuel for years to come. In Ulm, people think ahead: In the first quarter of 2021, the first battery trucks with an electric range of 400 kilometers are to roll off the assembly line. Nikola and Iveco are forging the plans in front of Daimler in Stuttgart and Traton in Munich.

Nikola has a brilliant stock market start - and flies on the nose

Meanwhile, the US automaker Nikola made a brilliant debut on the NASDAQ. Founder Trevor Milton's company has reached a preliminary valuation of nearly $ 29 billion. The proceeds are to flow directly into the expansion of the hydrogen filling station infrastructure. But the cheers didn't last long, because Nikola screwed up his first quarter on the stock market. Losses were taken into account, but not as high. The share lost a good 18%. The shares are currently a long way from the record and recent high of $ 93.99. In the second quarter there was a loss of 88.6 million US dollars, which was a loss of 0.33 dollars per share.

So far, Nikola has not achieved any noteworthy sales. It is expected, however, that hydrogen technology will be on the rise in the next few years. The goal: 2024 to achieve a turnover of 3.2 billion dollars. Nikola doesn't just rely on hydrogen. A battery-electric version of the truck is to be launched on the market in 2021. The fuel cell version should then come in 2023.

We spoke to our guest Angelika Heinzel about fuel cell technology and its potential in this podcast episode of "Technik auf Ohr":

Thousands of new jobs are to be created in Ulm

Nikola does not only want to play a pioneering role in terms of technology, the US start-up also wants to show off as an employer.

“There will be thousands of jobs,” promises Trevor Milton, Nikola’s boss.

The new jobs are to be created primarily from 2023, because the electricity truck will be followed by a hydrogen-fueled model. The range should be up to 800 kilometers. Daimler and Volvo, the two big competitors, were only allowed to show off their own fuel cell trucks in larger numbers in the middle of the decade. Is Nikola experiencing the "Tesla moment"? Investors are sure that the start-up will make it big in this country. Nikola is already valued at almost $ 14 billion on the stock exchange.

40 million euros investment at the Ulm location

Initially, 40 million euros are to be invested in the UImer Iveco location. Among other things, the money will be used to modernize production facilities. The main investor is CNH Industrial. Bosch also acts as a sponsor. The German electrical and supplier company has invested at least 100 million US dollars in Nikola Motors. We report on Bosch's involvement here.

In Ulm, the main focus will be on the final assembly of the vehicles. According to the plan, the first Nikola Tre will roll off the production line in 2021. The continuous output of the electric drive amounts to 480 kilowatts. The first models include the battery-electric 4 × 2 and 6 × 2 trucks, whose modular and scalable battery packs are to achieve a capacity of up to 720 kilowatt hours. Afterwards, the fuel cell powered Tre model will also be assembled in Ulm. The market launch is planned for 2023. The vehicle should be refueled with hydrogen in less than 15 minutes. Nikola is in direct competition with Tesla. The company has announced a semitruck that will drive 800 kilometers on one battery charge.

Baden-Württemberg as a location for e-trucks

Ulm and thus also Baden-Württemberg will be upgraded as a location for the automotive industry through the new production. Iveco already provides qualified skilled workers and technological skills. As part of the federal government's hydrogen strategy, two billion euros are attracting people to promote the technology and infrastructure.

Baden-Württemberg's Green Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann welcomes the decision: "Today's decision by Iveco to build the Nikola Tre in Ulm is an important political signal for Baden-Württemberg as a location for innovation."

The EU is also forcing manufacturers to reduce their CO2 emissions in their fleets by 15 percent by 2025 and by as much as 30 percent by 2030. Those who miss these goals pay hefty fines in the hundreds of millions, says Bernd Heid, partner at McKinsey. That means: Heavy goods traffic must also be electrified. The fuel cell has the advantage.

Today, however, the production, operation and maintenance of a heavy truck with a fuel cell still cost significantly more than its combustion counterpart.

Nikola has 14,000 pre-orders for the e-truck

The Nikola company develops electrically powered truck battery vehicles for medium distances. The portfolio also includes hydrogen trucks for long-haul heavy haulage. According to the company, there are 14,000 pre-orders for the electric truck. Nikola already has a good working relationship with sponsor Bosch. Bosch played a key role in the drive train and vehicle electronics of the Nikola Two. You can find out more about this project here.

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Nikola also not only wants to build the most modern e-trucks in the world, but also build the necessary infrastructure at the same time. In North America, the company plans to set up 700 filling stations and to obtain the hydrogen directly on site in electrolysers. Around 50 stations are planned in Europe. There is another plan behind this:

In fact, 60% of the total cost of a truck is accounted for by fuel. “Our competitors will start using our gas stations,” Milton believes. So sales should also be made with the competition.

The top management has no problem with that, because Milton is very happy to cooperate with other manufacturers. Tesla is therefore also a role model and competitor at the same time.

Badger pickup truck for rural areas

After the announcement of the Tre, Nikola is now releasing the next model: with the Badger, the company is entering the segment of electrically powered pickup trucks. This model is intended to drive mainly in the rural regions of the USA. Nikola is sending a clear signal to competitor Tesla and his Cybertruck. The Nikola Badger should be equipped with a battery and fuel cells. When both the battery and the hydrogen storage tank are completely full, the pickup truck has a range of almost 1,000 kilometers. The purely electric range and that achieved by fuel cells should each be around 483 kilometers. The vehicle will make its debut in September 2020 at Nikola World.

Competitor Tesla announces Semitruck

In the second half of 2020, Tesla would like to slowly start production of the Semi. The Tesla Semi will be available in two versions: one with a range of 480 kilometers and one with a range of 800 kilometers. It is rather questionable whether the electric semi-truck will be on the streets this year.

Tesla announced its semi in 2017.

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Some test projects for the operation of electric trucks are taking place in Germany. Overhead lines, which supply trucks with electricity while they are driving, are on a five-kilometer test route between Reinfeld and the Lübeck motorway junction. This has already been completed for months. The section is to be put to the test shortly by a pendulum hybrid truck. You can find out everything about the E-Highway on the A1 here.

Just recently, another start-up made a name for itself. As a newcomer, Hyzon Motors Inc. relies on the fuel cell drive. The American start-up plans to make truckers' hearts beat faster as early as November 2020. Then the first trucks or heavy trucks from Hyzon should be available. A 6 x 4 tractor unit as well as a 6 x 4 and an 8 x 4 truck with a rigid chassis will be at the start.

Also read:

This is how hydrogen-powered road transport works

Incentive to buy e-cars

Why hydrogen has the potential to become the fuel of the future

A contribution from:

  • Sarah Janczura

    Sarah Janczura is content manager and responsible editor for ingenieur.de. After an internship with a focus on social media, she worked as an online editor in a digital agency. She writes about technology, research and career topics.