The Nikola Motor Company blew the doors off their hinges when it announced that it would be launching not just a lineup of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, but a network of 700 gigantic hydrogen fueling stations to power them across the United States and Europe. With those big announcements, news that the company was also launching a line of powersport vehicles for civilian and military use understandably took a backseat. However, if you look at the markets these off-road vehicles appeal to, we can learn important things about Nikola’s overall strategy.
Off-Road Electric Vehicles
Before getting into the bigger market importance, let’s take a look at the vehicles themselves.
The Nikola Motor Company showed off its new NZT (which stands for Net Zero Toll) as a nod to its zero emission electric powertrain. The company also built up another electric UTV for military use, where its near-silent electric powertrain and remote control capabilities offer more than just zero emissions to elite military personnel. Finally, Nikola took to the stage to show off a fully electric personal watercraft, dubbed the WAV.
The Nikola NZT
Nikola’s NZT is an electrified quad-motor beast that’s designed from the ground up as the ultimate manifestation of an electrified off-road vehicle. It packs an impressive 125 kWh battery pack that keeps it hugging the ground while at the same time force-feeding power to all four of the NZT’s independently controlled, torque optimized motors.
With up to 590 horsepower and a mind-numbing 775 foot-pounds of torque, the NZT seems bent on separating riders from their consciousness. Nikola said that the vehicle would be available in a few configurations, with up to 590 horsepower from its 4 electric motors. That translates to a 0-60 of 4.0 seconds, which would be a feat on the street, but is just plain hard to imagine in anything being taken off road.
CleanTechnica jumped into the NZT at Nikola World for a short but adrenaline-filled blast around a dirt track assembled in the parking lot. It was abundantly clear that the diminutive track was the only thing holding the beast back from leaping into the air off of even the smallest hint of a bump in the track.
The specs of the NZT make it clear that it plans to define the premium electric UTV market segment, which it really has to do if the company wants to actually sell any of these, with its starting price of $80,000. It’s not hard to imagine the NZT becoming a halo vehicle that attracts powersports enthusiasts to the brand, enabling the sales of more affordable, less equipped versions.
- 13″ Infotainment Display
- Completely integrated Rockford Fosgate Sound System Package
- Front & Rear On Demand Cameras
- Integrated Front & Rear Turn Signals
- FOX 3.0 Internal Bypass Shocks
- 35″ D.O.T. Tires
- Full Underbody Skid Plate
- 400 lbs / 26 Gal
- 3,000 lbs Towing Capacity
The Nikola Reckless
Nikola Motor Company is not just aiming at wealthy off-road enthusiasts with the NZT. It also has its sights set on locking in an even bigger customer with a new offering built specifically for the military, called the Reckless. While the name implies a completely different approach than we would hope our military would take, the Reckless is really built to bring new levels of safety and utility to the military.
First and foremost, electric motor vehicles are ideal for the military, with a host of benefits that play directly into their Christmas wish list. The prospect of putting a nearly silent vehicle into the hands of military personnel is clearly attractive all on its own, as it decreases the chances of being discovered. That in and of itself is invaluable.
Electric vehicles also do not require a specific liquid fuel that must be produced outside of combat zones and shipped in at extremely high cost, while risking the safety of even more military and civilian personnel. Adding electrified vehicles to military fleets allows soldiers to leverage portable solar and wind generation to produce their own power on site, at a lower cost and vastly improved safety than combustion vehicles. As a special bonus, electric vehicles are far less likely than their I-burn-things-to-make-you-go-fast counterparts to burst into flames. This is not a small benefit, it is a very significant, very real improvement in how the people of the world move around.
The Nikola WAV
Nikola is also getting its feet wet with a new personal watercraft, dubbed the WAV. The WAV is still little more than a concept, but will clearly follow the styling cues of Nikola’s other vehicles. Futuristic lines, a sport bike riding stance, modern colors, bold LED lights, and a wood-look deck in the rear make the WAV a force to be reckoned with.
Adding to that the benefits of electric drive and the instant torque that comes with it, and you could have an impressive personal watercraft that offers better performance, lower maintenance needs, and a quieter ride than everything else on the market. That’s an impressive foundation to build a new vehicle off of, and truthfully, that is only scratching the surface of the possibilities.
If you can speed around all morning, then head back to camp to use the WAV to power your nighttime activities, new adventures are possible. If instead of refueling with petrol, the WAV can just plug into a dockside electrical outlet, why not stay out on the lake longer, and for less cash?
The initial concept of the WAV is lucrative, and is sure to open up the minds of the masses to a new type of personal watercraft. Perhaps more importantly, it introduces them to electric vehicles. Having said that, the road ahead is fraught with challenges for Nikola, and bringing the WAV to market isn’t likely to be high on their list for quite some time. Let’s get those semi trucks, fueling network, fueling stations, and maybe a few electric vehicles out the door first. When you’re ready, give me a call. I’ll bring the sunscreen.
The Bigger Picture: Playing To The Market
When taken together with the fuel-cell offerings, these new off-road vehicles launched by Nikola Motor Company at Nikola World might seem like an odd mix, and taking them in as an onlooker from the world of urban and suburban clean tech dominated by Tesla, they are. Drive a few states inland, however, and its product mix looks a lot more attractive.
At first glance, they don’t have the world-changing environmental impact of electric semi trucks, autonomous electric people movers, or fleets of electric buses flooding cities, but they play an important role in their respective markets. After all, off-road vehicles and personal watercraft are, for the most part, luxury items that owners opt-into occasionally for weekend adventures to the lake, the mountains, or to head out on a hunt, right?
Flyover states are sprinkled with small towns, dominated by their truck stops, as they cling to the nearest freeway. Four wheel drive vehicles roll into town as if from another planet, dusting off their monstrous tires after returning from a romp in the mud. Zooming out, dirt roads streak out of town, whispering of the wanderlust that pulled city dwellers out into the wild, to explore. And explore they did. In a town speckled with truck stops, ranchers, and trucks that serve as tools, people also have very real needs that can be served by off-road vehicles like the NZT or the WAV.
The prospect of building a product that’s not just cleaner, but is better in every respect than their internal combustion counterparts, is more than just an electrified offering. It could represent a critical foot in the door for electric vehicles in a market segment that has historically been extremely resistant to them on principle.
Even for people coming from the suburbs to play in rural areas, they often move these vehicles from home out to the remote areas where they can be unleashed, often relying on oversized diesel trucks or SUVs. Once they learn that electric can be good for the things they love, it might get a chance at adoption for their other vehicles and make a bigger impact.
Taken together, Nikola’s offerings are clearly meant to tap into markets that other players, like Tesla, aren’t quite relating to at this point. Nikola has defined a very sleek strategy to reach the unreached. They plan to reach those who couldn’t care less about electric vehicles by offering them the vehicles they already love, that perform better, and just happen to be electric. It’s a brilliant strategy, if they can pull off the development and delivery of the massive market chunks they just bit off at Nikola World.
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