This article about Nikola, Bosch, and electric trucks was first published on Gas2.
Electric trucks are a hot topic these days. Elon Musk says the Tesla Semi will be shown publicly on October 26. It will have a range of 200 to 300 miles, according to reports. Musk says interest from the trucking industry is so strong that most company executives only ask how many can they get and how soon can they get them. Cummins announced earlier this month that it also is hard at work on electric trucks for hauling freight. Its focus is on Class 7 drayage trucks with a range of 100 miles.
Just as with electric cars, range and recharging times are critical considerations. Tesla has recently filed for a patent on a battery swapping system, which many people think is intended for the Tesla Semi. (It might be, but then again, it might not be, and the vehicle in the diagrams is a Model S, not a Semi.) The thinking is that, after 200 to 300 miles of driving, the depleted battery could be swapped out for a fully charged unit while the driver grabs a cup of high-octane coffee prior to heading out on the next leg of a journey. Cummins says its 145 kWh battery can be recharged in only an hour. Better make that an extra large coffee, in that case.
Tesla and Cummins aren’t the only game in town when it comes to electric trucks, however. Nikola Motors — the name being a direct rip-off of Tesla’s tribute to electrical power pioneer Nikola Tesla — has been promising to build Class 8 electric trucks for a few years. First they were going to be battery operated with a natural gas–powered range-extending turbine engine. Now it says its trucks will use hydrogen fuel cell technology to give them up to 1200 miles of range.
Nikola Motors has attracted attention from several large and highly regarded companies. Ryder, one of the largest truck leasing companies in the world, says it will provide service and maintenance support at any of its 800 facilities nationwide. Now Bosch, one of the largest independent suppliers to the automotive and truck manufacturing industry, says it will provide the heavy-duty components that will actually move Nikola’s trucks forward.
Nikola will use Bosch’s eAxle design to help bring their truck to market as fast as possible. The eAxle is a self-contained system that includes the electric motor, power electronics, and transmission in a single, modular unit.
Nikola has previously unveiled its Nikola One, a long-distance multi-axle tractor. Such trucks often include living quarters for drivers. This week it has introduced its Nikola Two, a smaller “day cab” design with the same range and performance.
Nikola Motors claims its trucks have no direct exhaust emissions. The only waste products of a fuel cell are water vapor and heat. That may be somewhat disingenuous, however. In the US today, most hydrogen fuel is made from natural gas, which is produced by fracking, one of the most destructive means of extraction known to humanity.
A hydrogen refueling station costs as much as $3 million to construct — for a single station. Who will build the infrastructure to support its fuel cell–powered electric trucks is a question that Nikola Motors has not yet addressed.
For years, there was a debate in the auto industry whether battery-electric cars would beat out fuel cell cars or vice versa. Elon Musk came in and decided the ending — or made us read the ending faster than we would have. There’s similarly now a debate about which technology best suits long-distance, heavy-duty shipping — whether by truck, boat, or something else. Tesla’s money is clearly on battery-electric trucks. Cummins is apparently going in that direction as well. Nikola Motors has slid off to the side and is betting on hydrogen. Will Elon be right again? Or is it finally his time to misunderstand a market?
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