The California firm AJR Trucking will use its new zero emission fuel cell trucks from Nikola Motor to haul mail for the US Postal Service (photo courtesy of AJR).

US Postal Service Carrier Orders 50 Fuel Cell Trucks From Nikola

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Nikola Motor seems to have not gotten the memo about the demise of fuel cell electric vehicles. Nikola has just nailed down an order for 50 Class 8 fuel cell trucks from the Los Angeles firm AJR Trucking. In the big world of trucking, 50 trucks is not a particularly impressive figure. However, the news is significant because gives Nikola a big bump-up for its footprint in the US, and because AJR happens to be a longtime carrier for the US Postal Service, which is under pressure to electrify.

50 Nikola Class 8 Fuel Cell Trucks Are Heading This Way

CleanTechnica’s Tim Tyler covered the news earlier this week here, when Tom’s Truck Center of California announced that it has put down a 50-truck order from Nikola for its two dealerships. To put that number in perspective, on March 29th, Nikola announced that it finally reached the 100-unit milestone for total sales of its Tre fuel cell trucks in the US, which it first teased all the way back during the Obama administration.

Nikola has weathered a series of fits and starts since launching its zero emission journey in 2014 (see our complete coverage). The company has had somewhat better luck cracking the fuel cell truck market in Europe, one recent example being a 100-truck commitment from the integrated energy firm GP Joule.

What About The Fuel For Those Fuel Cell Trucks?

If you want to buy some of Nikola’s Class 8 fuel cell trucks from Tom’s Truck Center, get in line. It appears that the leading US shipping company AJR Trucking has already staked a claim to all 50 trucks.

In a press release dated May 2, Nikola re-announced the news from AJR Trucking, which issued a press release of its own on May 1. AJR took note of the copious tax incentives provided to zero emission Class 8 truck buyers in California.

With an assist from Nikola and Tom’s, AJR expects to receive $270,000 per truck from California’s point-of-sale incentives, and another $40,000 per truck in federal tax credits from the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

If you’re wondering where AJR expects to fuel up its new fuel cell trucks, that’s a good question. Fuel cells run on hydrogen, and hydrogen fueling stations are few and far between here in the US.

The solution cooked up by Nikola is a fleet of mobile hydrogen fueling stations, with which AJR expects to engage.

For the record, the global hydrogen market of today is almost entirely dependent on hydrogen extracted from natural gas, and coal to a lesser extent.

On a brighter note, the cost of green hydrogen from water and other renewable sources is beginning to come down (our complete coverage is here). Nikola has been jumping on a number of opportunities in the green hydrogen field, including partnerships with Plug Power, Fortescue Future Industries, and the Canadian company Klean Industries.

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More Alternative Fuel Vehicles For The US Postal Service

AJR already has a plan for those new fuel cell trucks. The plan is to deploy the new trucks for the US Postal Service, as the next step in a 30-year mail hauling relationship between the agency and AJR.

“We look forward to working with Nikola and USPS to integrate the FCEVs into our mail hauling operations starting in Southern Calif. and envision expanding the use of these trucks throughout our operations nationwide,” said Jack Khudikyan, who is the owner of AJR.

“AJR Trucking has been performing mail hauling operations for USPS for over 30 years and prides itself on being a leader in the deployment of the latest truck technology and supporting the advancement of alternatively fueled vehicles into its fleets,” the company added.

AJR also notes that it was among the first to introduce compressed natural gas to the US Postal Service fleet. The company is currently sourcing its gas from renewable feedstocks through a partnership with the alternative fuels company U.S. Gain, a subsidiary of the diversified firm U.S. Venture.

Last year, AJR upped the ante on sustainable transportation by ordering a total of 25 medium- and heavy-duty battery-electric trucks from the US firm Kenworth. Khudikyan’s other company, MBD Transportation, also piggybacked on the order.

US Postal Service Awakens From Zero Emission Slumber

As for the US Postal Service, the agency finally seems to be revving up its fleet electrification plans. The current Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, was put forward for appointment during the Trump administration. He announced initial plans for overhauling the Postal Service’s aging fleet of 165,000 general delivery trucks soon after President Biden took office in 2021, under a contract with Oshkosh Defense. However, the contract stipulated a floor of just 10% battery-electric vehicles.

After some vigorous prodding, last December the Postal Service announced that its first tranche of 60,000 new delivery vehicles is expected to include 75% electric vehicles, with the help of off-the-shelf units as well as trucks supplied by Oshkosh. That still leaves the agency with thousands of new gas-powered vehicles, though Oshkosh has stated that its bespoke US Postal Service trucks are designed to accommodate either electric drive or internal combustion engines, and they can be converted from gas to electric as needed.

More Fuel Cell Trucks For USPS, Maybe

Also left dangling is the question of how to transition the Postal Service’s long haul fleet to zero emission mobility. The answer appears to lie partly with Postal Service haulers like AJR Trucking.

AJR describes itself as among the ten largest Postal Service haulers, so it’s possible that other trucking companies are eyeballing AJR’s experience with fuel cell trucks before they take the plunge.

Based on revenue, the shipping news organization Transport Topics currently lists FedEx and UPS among the top three mail carriers, along with a lesser-known company called 10 Roads Express.

Back in 2015, FedEx emerged as an early adopter of fuel cell motive power for support equipment. The company also engaged in an Energy Department program aimed at demonstrating fuel cells as range extenders for battery-electric trucks. However, the company seems to have hit a wall with its first fuel cell truck, a delivery van acquired in 2018 from the struggling firm Workhorse Group.

UPS also seems to have run out of fuel cell steam, at least for the present. In 2018 the company partnered with Ballard to introduce four hybrid electric fuel cell delivery vans to California, with an assist from the California Air Resources Board. Another stage in the project popped up in 2021, when the firms Linamar Corporation and Roush CleanTech joined Ballard, but since then it’s been cricket chirps.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to both companies for an update, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Photo: New fuel cell trucks will haul mail for the US Postal Service (courtesy of AJR Trucking).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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