COOLIDGE, Ariz. — Nikola Corp. celebrated the commercial launch of its hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles with 900 of its customers, suppliers and supporters at its manufacturing facility Sept. 28.
“Today is the culmination of a long journey,” CEO Steve Girsky said. “This is a company that always said we’d have a hydrogen fuel cell truck on sale in 2023, and we do today.”
Nikola expects to begin delivering trucks within the next few weeks, and Girsky said Nikola is focused on delivering trucks at scale as it heads into the fourth quarter. The manufacturer has 223 nonbinding orders from 23 customers, including J.B. Hunt and AJR Trucking. The orders will take production into the first quarter of 2024.
Nikola broke ground on the manufacturing facility, which also produces Nikola’s battery-electric vehicles, three years ago. During a tour, Danielle Leksell, senior manager of manufacturing program management, said it produces one hydrogen truck per day.
The facility has a versatile mixed-model production line capable of manufacturing both hydrogen fuel cell and battery-electric trucks. It can achieve an annual production capacity of about 2,400 trucks across three shifts.
Christian Appel, head of vehicle platform, said the manufacturer is producing one version of the truck but can do custom upfits. “Out of the gate, it is easier to build one model,” he said.
The trucks have a range of 500 miles, but Appel said he saw a range of 580 miles during tests.
The hydrogen fuel cell trucks have completed two rounds of summer testing in Arizona, two rounds of winter testing in Michigan and high-altitude testing in Colorado, said Pedro Garcia, global head of product development.
“Uptime, safety and reliability is table stakes in trucking; therefore, our team completed rigorous testing and validation on this product,” he said during the launch event.
To increase safety, the trucks include equipment like adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems. They also have a crash detection system, which is the same technology used in air bags. If a crash is detected, the truck closes the valves to prevent hydrogen from escaping, Garcia said.
“This product was engineered with our fleet customers and drivers front and center,” he said. “The feedback from the pilots is that it feels like you’re in a premium car.”
The trucks feature six active regenerative levels, hill climbing modes and can go from zero to 60 mph in 28 seconds when fully loaded and zero to 60 in 12 seconds without a load.
“We are building confidence in drivers,” test track coordinator Ryan Barnhart said.
Garcia said the trucks produce significant amounts of data, which fleets can use to monitor performance and improve decision-making. The information also can improve maintenance, moving fleets closer to predictive diagnostics, Appel said.
Bruna Chiosini, global head of supply chain and supplier quality, told Transport Topics that while most supply chain challenges have been resolved, some issues with the availability of semiconductors remain.
“We’re working with our suppliers to ensure they have the supplies they need,” she said.
The fuel cell trucks hold 70 kilograms of hydrogen, and Nikola is rolling out fueling stations across North America with its Hyla brand.
“It will create the hydrogen highway, and it will be a safe, cost-effective and flawless customer experience,” Nikola President of Energy Joe Cappello said. “The fueling experience will evolve from interim fueling locations to flagship fueling centers with the Hyla brand and Nikola brand.”
Cappello said Nikola will partner with existing truck stops. The manufacturer also has announced a partnership with Voltera, which plans to develop 50 Hyla stations in the next five years.
“You can almost think of us as becoming [Nikola’s] real estate development and operations arm for these hydrogen fueling stations,” said Pack Janes, strategic investments and partnerships at Voltera.
Initially, the stations will feature two pumps but will be designed for expansion. Voltera closed on its West Sacramento site a few weeks ago and expects it to go live in the fall of 2025.
Voltera CEO Matt Horton told TT that infrastructure development will follow demand, which currently is strong in California and near ports.
“From there, we’re looking to extend to transport corridors,” he said, adding that the permitting process can take years.
Hyla has developed interim fueling solutions, and the first two mobile liquid hydrogen fueling tanks will be delivered to California in the coming weeks, said Mike Archibald, Nikola’s global head of hydrogen infrastructure projects. “You’re bringing a new energy source into play, so we’re looking for flexible solutions. This is a hydrogen station on wheels,” he said, adding that there typically is a three-month permitting process required to get a mobile fueling station in place.
Most trucks use 40 kg of hydrogen a day, and the 1,000-kg tanks can fuel about 18 trucks in a 24-hour period.
“We’re trying to get customers clustered so we can have more density of trucks,” Archibald said. “When we get more density, then we will get a permanent solution in place.”
Girsky said Nikola has evolved and thrived and is ready to meet the demand for zero-emission vehicles, which is driven by government regulations and corporate responsibility.
“Companies that are not future-minded are being left behind,” he said. “Nikola can provide to those companies a truck that supports their sustainability goals, eliminating diesel truck tailpipe emissions with over-the-road Class 8 solutions.”